The Honor System

Latin honors are highly coveted graduation distinctions that mark tremendous academic achievement. Colleges and universities mainly accredit them, but some U.S. high schools also offer Latin Honors. According to the American Military University, Latin Honor designation falls into three categories, each with its own minimum GPA requirement. These include:

  • Summa cum laude

  • Magna cum laude

  • Cum laude

Summa cum laude is awarded to an elite group of the most senior performing students in the class. Magna cum laude is granted to the next level, and finally, cum laude comprises the final tier of highly successful students.

The three Latin honors are summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude.

Summa Cum Laude Meaning

Summa cum laude is a prestigious title awarded to students with “the highest distinction”. Typically, this distinction is given to graduates whose grades place them in the highest percentage of their school. In some cases, another metric, such as class rank or number of hours completed, can also put students in this category.

Magna Cum Laude Meaning

Magna cum laude signifies a degree earned “with great distinction.” This level of Latin honor is awarded to those who achieve a strong GPA, but don’t meet the minimum requirements of summa cum laude. It is the middle tier between summa cum laude and cum laude.

Cum Laude Meaning

Cum laude may be the lowest rank of Latin honors, but it is still a great achievement. This distinction is bestowed upon students graduating “with distinction” or “with honor.”

Latin Honors Milestones

The milestones required to achieve each level of distinction depend on the colleges and universities setting them. Most frequently, these requirements include a minimum GPA, class rank, hours completed, and faculty recommendations. Some institutions prefer success in all of these areas, while others base their decision off of only one or two of them. While online resources are a great place to start, it is important to visit your university website or reach out to your school's guidance office directly. Doing so will ensure that you are working toward the correct cum laude, summa cum laude, and magna cum laude requirements.

Summa Cum Laude Requirements

The most significant distinction, summa cum laude, is usually reserved for the smallest group of students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. The conditions are so rigorous that in some cases, only a few students out of the entire class receive the honor.

Students can expect to need to graduate in the top 5% of their class and might need to complete at least ninety quarter hours. In order to achieve summa cum laude, GPA will need to be 3.90 or higher. A thesis and instructor recommendation might also be required.

Magna Cum Laude Requirements

Magna cum laude requirements can differ based on the institution and even the program within the institution. Most commonly, it is awarded to those who achieve a minimum GPA of 3.70. Much of the time, students must graduate in the top 10% of their class and complete 90 credit hours. Along with these criteria, non-GPA factors such as completion of a certain number of advanced courses also are considered.

Cum Laude Requirements

The final class merit is cum laude. Students who wish to graduate under this category should score at least a 3.50 GPA and graduate in the top 25% of their class. Many colleges and universities only consider a student’s GPA for cum laude status. Still, other academic records and achievements may also be included, depending on the school.

How to Achieve Latin Honors

Achieving Latin honors is no small feat. Summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude all require commitment and keeping your eyes on the prize. Here are a few tips to use on your journey to graduate with distinction.

Ask for Help

If you are hoping to achieve Latin honors with your diploma, you don’t have to do it alone. Your school likely has a guidance counselor whose job is to help you reach your goals. If you are wanting to earn cum laude, sum laude, or magna cum laude, consider connecting with this person. Then, you can devise a plan and set short-term goals to help you reach your full potential.

What GPA will you need to reach every semester to receive Latin Honors? Breaking your goal down into smaller, more manageable targets is often the first step.

Stay Balanced

Finding equilibrium is important for any student, high school or otherwise. You may choose to take on a massive load of advanced classes to beef up your academic record. This sounds like a good plan in theory, but it can get overwhelming fast. It is vital to balance complex courses with easier ones. You will still complete your required hours, but in classes that you’re sure to score high in. Again, speaking to a guidance counselor can help you determine how to reach this goal.

Improve Organization and Study Skills

Studying is the most critical part of making sure you get the best grade possible. Creating a study environment that works for you will make a big difference. Consider finding somewhere quiet and secluded where you can focus free of distractions. This way, you can direct all your attention on the task at hand.

Honors students must also practice good time management skills. Try recording due dates and test days in a calendar or daily planner so that you have everything you need in one place.

Final Thoughts

Cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude are all prestigious titles that can help you stand out from other students at both a high school and university level. If you are interested in working toward these distinctions, reach out to a guidance counselor for school specifics and set specific goals. Doing so will allow you to earn Latin honors in the semesters to come.

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