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What Is Summa Cum Laude?

by Boston College
June 2, 2024
8 min read
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College is an exciting time for students because it teaches a multitude of skills that go beyond education. It's an opportunity for students to thrive in an environment that caters to their every need and pushes them to transcend their horizons and explore. There is so much hard work and tenacity required to earn the role of a graduate. With the highest earners receiving Latin honors, many ask what is summa cum laude?

Summa cum laude refers to a level of academic prestige in the academic world and a student's performance throughout the duration of college. You may have heard the term come up with previous students, or maybe it's an honor you aspire to achieve yourself. Although graduating summa cum laude is considered to be the highest honor, there are other categories vested in Latin honors as well.

In this article, we will explore the entire system, delve into the origin and meaning of summa cum laude, discuss the criteria for obtaining it, and highlight its impact on future opportunities. There are also a handful of frequently asked questions to further guide you.

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latin honors system

Understanding the Latin Honors System

Latin Honors, also known as Latin honorifics, are academic distinctions that recognize outstanding achievement in undergraduate or graduate studies. These honors are typically awarded at the end of a students career. The achievement is highlighted during graduation ceremonies to students that have demonstrated this exceptional scholastic performance throughout the duration of their career.

The Origin of Latin Honors

These traditions of Latin Honors date back centuries. The act of bestowing academic distinctions among these three Latin terms can be traced back to educational institutions in medieval Europe. In historical times, Latin was the language of scholarship and learning during that era. These honors were built as an extension of the public recognition of students' accomplishments.

It is worth mentioning that Latin Honors system has its roots in the ancient Roman Empire, where individuals were given these titles for their tremendous contributions to society. These latin terms are not new by any means, and have stood as a framework of valuing excellence. It has transcended time and continues to be a prestigious accolade in academic settings worldwide.

The Three Levels of Latin Honors

These are the three distinct levels of Latin Honors, with each representing a different level of academic distinction:

Summa Cum Laude

Students who achieve summa cum laude status have demonstrated exceptional dedication to their studies, often maintaining a near-perfect grade point average throughout their academic career. This highest level of distinction is a testament to their hard work, intellectual curiosity, and commitment to excellence in education.

For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, summa cum laude GPA ranges from 3.8 or higher. At Columbia University, there is no predetermined GPA cutoff. Instead, the top 5% of the graduating class receives summa cum laude. For the 2023 school year, a 4.06 GPA or higher received summa cum laude. This is a rare and prestigious honor that highlights the remarkable academic accomplishments of the recipient.

Magna Cum Laude

Magna cum laude indicates "with great praise" or "with high honor" and typically requires students to meet between a 3.7 to 3.9 GPA. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, magna cum laude requires a GPA of 3.6 to less than 3.8. At Columbia University, students from the top 5% to the top 15% receive manga cum laude. Minus a few average grades, students within this category were more or less earning stellar grades throughout their education.

Cum Laude

Cum laude means "with praise" or "with honor" and is awarded to students with a GPA typically between 3.5 to 3.7. There might be specific variations on the number depending on the school. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, students who receive cum laude must have a GPA ranging from 3.4 to less than 3.6. Meanwhile, at Columbia University, from the top 15% to the top 25% received cum laude, and for the 2024 school year, a 3.91 GPA fell under cum laude.

You might want to consider calculating your GPA to get a better picture of whether you meet any of these requirements.

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How Hard Is It to Graduate Summa Cum Laude?

As established, summa cum laude implies that the student received perfect scores throughout the duration of college. While the range of difficulty will vary among different institutions, there is no doubt that college courses are hard.

In fact, many college courses make it exceptionally difficult to push students to work a tremendous amount to receive an A. Being able to receive perfect scores while simultaneously balancing future pursuits, social life, and other commitments is hard.

It isn't impossible, but it sure isn't easy. Any student who has graduated summa cum laude should celebrate it. Completing four years of schoolwork with nearly perfect results is a challenging but attainable goal for students who are dedicated, well-organized, and proactive about their academic performance.

The title not only demonstrates academic excellence but also embody qualities such as perseverance, critical thinking, and an exploration for knowledge. It is a reflection of their unwavering dedication to their education and serves as a beacon of inspiration for future scholars aiming to reach similar heights.

Keep in mind that being in the top 1% deserves great praise, but it isn't the end of the world if you don't fall within that category. There can be many outside obstacles preventing one from achieving that, whether that be outside stress or course rigor. Don't diminish your hard work because it isn't considered to be summa cum laude honors.

Criteria for Summa Cum Laude

To hold the graduating class in the same regard across the country, schools set specific criteria and requirements that students must meet in order to be eligible. Depending on the Latin honor, you might see an increase or decrease in value expectations. The criteria itself doesn't change among the academic honors, but the numerical values they are given do. Here is what most universities consider when awarding summa cum laude specifically.

GPA Requirements

The primary and most fundamental criterion for summa cum laude is an exceptionally high-grade point average (GPA). While the exact GPA threshold can vary between institutions, it is generally set at 3.9 or higher on a 4.0 scale. This means that students must consistently achieve top grades throughout their academic careers.

These numbers are typically pretty rigid, so even if you are .01 percent off, your honors might be affected. It is best to work your hardest and stick to the numbers outlined by your institution. For any further clarification, I recommend speaking with your academic advisor.

Other Academic Considerations

While many use GPA as the primary criterion, others may also consider factors like the rigor of coursework, leadership, research contributions, and other achievements. These factors may include the rigor of the student's coursework, the number of honors and advanced courses they have taken, and any additional academic distinctions they have received.

Universities also consider the overall academic growth and development of the student throughout their academic journey. Students who show a consistent improvement in their academic performance, engage in research projects, participate in academic competitions, or contribute to the academic community in meaningful ways may also be strong contenders for the prestigious summa cum laude distinction.

summa cum laude

The Impact of Summa Cum Laude on Future Opportunities

The honor of receiving an accolade like summa cum laude can have a significant impact on a student's future opportunities, particularly in the realms of graduate school admissions and the job market. This prestigious distinction speaks volumes for a student's capability to perform well with a hefty course load.

Graduate School Admissions

Whether it be medical school, law school, or business school, many students go on to further their education for more competitive professions. Admissions officers for these schools often highly consider undergraduate performance.

Being awarded summa cum laude can undoubtedly enhance a student's chances of gaining admission to competitive graduate programs. Admissions committees recognize that this honor is a testament to the student's exceptional academic abilities and work ethic. It serves as evidence of their commitment to excellence, making their graduate school application stand out among the pool of applicants.

Most graduate schools seek applicants who not only possess strong academic records but also exhibit a passion for learning and a capacity for advanced research and analysis. Students with the distinction of summa cum laude are viewed favorably by admissions committees due to their proven track record of academic success and their potential to make significant contributions to their chosen field of study.

Job Market Prospects

Similar to graduate programs, for jobs that look at transcripts, summa cum laude can give graduates a distinct advantage. Employers often value academic achievements and look for candidates who have excelled in their studies. It is easy to put faith in an employee's dedication by assessing previous performance.

Being able to showcase the highest level of distinction, such as summa cum laude, on a resume or during an interview can demonstrate a candidate's dedication, intellectual prowess, and ability to excel in a competitive environment.

Employers recognize that individuals who have achieved summa cum laude status possess not only a strong foundation of knowledge but also the drive and determination to tackle complex challenges with precision and creativity. You will seem like a much more favorable candidate and trusted to complete more difficult, strenuous tasks.

This distinction can set candidates apart in a competitive job market, signaling to potential employers that they are capable of handling demanding tasks, adapting to new environments, and continuously striving for excellence in their professional endeavors.

How to Achieve Summa Cum Laude

To achieve summa cum laude, students should focus on creating a strategic plan that helps them consistently earn straight A's in their courses. It is a time to surpass the responsibilities of simply receiving a passing grade and making sure to avoid any failures on the transcript. This involves identifying effective study habits and routines that work best for them and sticking to this personalized plan.

Time management, regular class attendance, active participation, and seeking help when needed are crucial components. It’s also important to balance academic efforts with self-care, avoiding undue pressure while striving for excellence. By staying organized, setting realistic goals, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, students can maximize their academic potential and increase their chances of graduating summa cum laude.

achieving summa cum laude

Frequently Asked Questions About Summa Cum Laude

Can Summa Cum Laude be revoked?

No, summa cum laude cannot be revoked after it was awarded following your completion at the school. Once a student graduates with this distinction, it becomes a permanent part of their academic record. It is a well-deserved recognition of their achievements throughout their academic journey.

Is Summa Cum Laude recognized internationally?

Yes, summa cum laude is recognized internationally as a prestigious academic honor. While the Latin Honors system may have originated in Europe, universities around the world have adopted it to honor and distinguish outstanding students. Graduates awarded summa cum laude can proudly highlight this achievement, knowing that it carries weight and recognition globally.

Furthermore, the recognition of summa cum laude on an international scale underscores the universal value placed on academic excellence. Students who graduate with this distinction not only receive accolades within their own academic community but also gain respect and admiration from institutions and professionals worldwide.

Can all degrees be awarded Latin honors?

Summa cum laude is not typically awarded for all degrees, as its availability and criteria vary by institution and degree level. It is most commonly awarded for undergraduate degrees, also known as bachelor's degrees. Summa cum laude is less frequently awarded for graduate degrees (Master's and Doctoral degrees).

While some institutions may recognize exceptional academic performance at the graduate level, they often use different terms or criteria to denote such honors. For professional degrees, such as law (JD) or medicine (MD), the awarding of summa cum laude also varies widely, with some institutions choosing to implement this honor while others employ alternative methods of recognizing academic excellence.

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Boston College
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About Fiza

Fiza is a dedicated writer and researcher with expertise in internships, scholarships, career opportunities, and financial aid. Her skills enable her to craft engaging and insightful content that guides students through the complex processes of applying for financial aid and pursuing career opportunities.

She graduated from Boston College, majoring in Applied Psychology and Human Development and Computer Science.


Fiza has experience in writing blog posts, SEO content, and creative storytelling. On her personal blog, she shares engaging narratives through personal anecdotes. Her international experiences have given her a global perspective, enabling her to connect with a diverse audience. Fiza is committed to making a meaningful impact through her writing, always considering the perspectives and experiences of others.

Since joining the team in 2022, Fiza has channeled her passion for guiding students through pivotal stages of their academic journeys. She understands the challenges associated with college life and is dedicated to helping students adjust to their degree programs and manage their finances. Motivated by her own experiences, Fiza is passionate about empowering students by providing guidance and support that she wished she had during her undergraduate years.

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