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What is Cum Laude?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Cum laude is an academic honor that means “with praise” in Latin. It is normally awarded to students at graduation and is the lowest of a series of three Latin honors. These kinds of awards are most common in American universities, but can be found at schools of varying levels all around the world. A lot of what it takes to graduate cum laude depends on school policy — different institutions have different rules when it comes to what, exactly, will qualify a student to earn the award — but grade point average is almost always a determining factor.

Hierarchy of Latin Honors

Not all schools award Latin honors, but those that do usually adhere to a system of three different “levels” or “ranks.” Cum laude comes first, and is reserved for students who have shown great proficiency over a sustained course of study. Next is magna cum laude, which means “with great honor,” followed by summa cum laude, or “with highest honor.” It is very rare to find any one of these awards without the other two, as they usually work together as a ranking system.

How to Earn

There is no universal rubric or set of guidelines that defines exactly what it takes to earn a Latin honor, and in fact, the rules can vary tremendously from school to school. Sometimes, the award is automatically conferred based on class rank or cumulative grade point average, but it might also be something that students have to apply for in advance of graduation. At some schools, those who are interested in graduating “with praise” or higher have to complete a special honors track, take honors exams, or participate in exclusive, usually more difficult seminars or classes.

There is also very little guidance when it comes to whether a school will offer Latin honors at all. Most undergraduate institutions do, but there is usually no reason that they have to. Some graduate schools, particularly law and medical programs, also have the honors as a sort of built-in ranking system. It is rare to find the awards at the high school level, but it can happen. Students who are interested in learning about graduation honors at their school should talk with faculty members or other academic leaders to get clarification and guidance.

Non-Scholastic Elements

Institutions may also require students to get letters of recommendation from faculty members, advisers, or peers in order to qualify. Community service and extracurricular activities may also factor in, and it is not unheard of for students to write reflective essays or petitions as to why they are particularly well-suited for honors. In these cases, a panel or board of faculty and administrators usually meets to determine who will graduate with honors and at what rank.

Announcing the Award

Like all Latin honors, the cum laude distinction is almost always announced at graduation or in the days leading up to the ceremony. Honorees may wear special sashes or cords over their gowns to set them apart, and the honor is usually also announced as their names are read. “Cum laude” is usually printed on the actual diploma, too, and it is customary for it to be noted in the graduation program as well.

Ramifications Beyond Academia

The honor and prestige associated with the award usually extends well beyond graduation. Students who earn it can and often do list it on their resumes and on job applications. Prospective employers often prioritize people who have graduated with this honor, as the distinction often speaks to the person’s overall character by marking them as someone who can achieve to a high standard while balancing many competing demands. Graduating cum laude may also allow a person to join honor societies or elite professional groups in the future.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By plsmitha — On Jul 15, 2015

Ashford University Honors criteria:

Cum laude: 3.50 - 3.69; magna cum laude: 3.70 - 3.89; summa cum laude: 3.90 and above.

By amypollick — On May 14, 2013

@anon334703: If I were you, I'd check with the registrar, to make sure your grades were correctly entered. If you look in your college catalog, it should have the guidelines for graduating with honors. My GPA was a 3.66 and I was cum laude. Magna cum laude was 3.75. But every college has slightly different criteria, so it pays to check. I'd think a 3.95 would qualify you for magna cum laude, so you definitely get with the registrar's office and find out.

By anon334704 — On May 14, 2013

@anon11436: A 3.5 is a B, so it is correct that a 3.7 is an A-.

4 = A

3.5 = B

3.0 = C, you can figure out the in between stuff for the + and -. This is based on the highest possible grade of a 4.0.

By anon334703 — On May 14, 2013

I just finished a BSN (nursing) program at Wilmington University. I finished with a GPA of 3.94 and they have cum laude on my transcript. I thought a 3.94 would be a little higher than cum laude. I'm really disappointed. I worked hard and long to achieve a higher honor. I don't think I'm going there for my Master's.

By anon270995 — On May 24, 2012

I have been to community college, top 50 public satellite and the same top 50 on campus. There definitely is a difference in getting good grades depending on where you are attending. My first three years, I had a 4.0 until my last year on campus.

By anon268792 — On May 15, 2012

At Virginia Commonwealth University it is as follows:

Summa cum laude: 3.90 and higher grade point average.

Magna cum laude: 3.60-3.89 GPA.

Cum laude: 3.30-3.59 GPA.

By anon180153 — On May 25, 2011

In the Inter American University of Puerto Rico:

3.25-3.49: Cum Laude

3.50-3.84: Magna Cum Laude

3.85-4.00: Summa Cum Laude

By anon174294 — On May 10, 2011

At Cornell University varies, depending on the college. In the AEM Dyson Business School it is:

3.5-3.699 cum laude

3.7-3.999 magna cum laude

4.0 or better summa cum laude

Dean's List: 3.5 or better

BS with Honors: must graduate with latin honors

By anon156059 — On Feb 25, 2011

Here in the Netherlands, we normally do not distinguish between cum laude, summa cum laude and magna cum laude. Out of a scoring system of 10, if you receive a final average mark on your BSc or MSc of 8 or 8.5 (depending on the school you go to) or higher than you receive the the "cum laude" distinction. Some schools also state that not a single mark on course work or the final thesis should be lower than 7.5 or an 8 to receive this distinction.

I think the reason for only one type (cum laude)of distinction, is because it is difficult to get all marks above 8 or 8.5. In most cases you will automatically be in the top 5 to 10 percent of the class.

By anon151909 — On Feb 11, 2011

Ohio State University

3.5 - 3.69: cum laude

3.7 - 3.89: magna cum laude

3.9-plus: summa cum laude

I only managed regular old cum laude myself.

By anon142779 — On Jan 14, 2011

I attend an ivy league undergraduate program in the US and here it's not done solely by GPA.

Because so many students here get straight A's, our cum laude recognition is based on GPA, academic achievement (such as being rewarded with departmental honors, becoming published, being awarded grant money for research, etc.) and percentages.

The minimum GPA for cum laude is 3.5, the minimum for magna cum laude is 3.67, and the minimum for summa cum laude is 3.9. But again, because so many students have GPAs in the 3.5-4.0 range, only the top 25 percent of the graduating class can receive honors "with no more than 5 percent summa cum laude, and the total of summa and magna cum laude not exceeding 15 percent."

Our GPA minimums for Honor Society and Dean's List are also quite higher than most schools because otherwise, everyone would make it.

By anon133494 — On Dec 11, 2010

In Venezuela as we use a grades scale from 1 to 20 points. Cum laude is when you graduate with 18, magna cum laude with 19 and summa cum laude with 20. I particularly finished a short term career as cum laude, and people now say that I have almost every door opened for continuing my studies at any university. That should be called an advantage of being cum laude. Regards.

By anon131257 — On Dec 01, 2010

Thank you for the info. I attend AIU Online and I am shooting to graduate Cum Laude but I need to find out what the school's policy for Cum Laude is. Do they tally up your GPA by semester, by year or what, how do they do it? Thanks, C.C.

By anon130828 — On Nov 30, 2010

Here in the Philippines, most universities and colleges use a different grading system. 1.00 (Flat One) is the highest score which is equivalent to 96-100 of grade while the lowest is 3.00 which equivalent of 75% or the passing mark.

For a summa cum laude, it must be 1.00-1.19

Magna cum laude, 1.20-1.45

and Cum laude, 1.46-1.75. A 1.75 grade is equivalent to 89-85.

By anon117123 — On Oct 09, 2010

I graduated from American InterContinental University with a 3.5 GPA and they considered it "cum laude."

By anon114548 — On Sep 29, 2010

my University requirements:

3.500 - 3.750 Cum Laude

3.751 - 3.899 Magna Cum Laude

3.900 - 4.000 Summa Cum Laude

I am very proud that I graduated Summa Cum Laude.

By anon110851 — On Sep 13, 2010

I go to Nazarene Theological Seminary and theirs is, I think:

3.4 - cum laude (mostly A's, a few B's, and maybe a C)

3.75 - magna cum laude (mostly A's with a B or two; no room for C's here)

4.0 - summa cum laude - Straight A's.

Few will graduate magna cum laude, and it could be that there are no summa cum laudes in a graduating class. Very high standards here.

By anon110385 — On Sep 11, 2010

I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA in 2006 and couldn't be prouder of my achievements. Congratulations to anyone who makes it that far - it is definitely an honor worth working for.

By anon109343 — On Sep 07, 2010

cum laude is awarded to the top 1 percent of students at my university. It is very hard to get this grading, even with diligent study.

By anon105983 — On Aug 23, 2010

Auburn University is

3.4-3.59 Cum Laude

3.6-3.79 Manga Cum Laude

3.8 of higher Summa Cum Laude

If I maintain my GPA for the rest of the semester, I'll be graduating summa cum laude. Thanks for the info, btw. I did not know what those latin phrases meant.

By anon93990 — On Jul 06, 2010

Universidad nacional autonoma de honduras

80% - 90% - cum laude

91% - 95% - magna cum laude

96% - 100% - summa cum laude

By anon89452 — On Jun 10, 2010

It all depends on your university and their grading scale.

3.60 and 3.7499 Cum Laude

3.75 and 3.8999 Magna Cum Laude

3.90 and 4.0000 Summa Cum Laude

That is mine and I know a lot of universities did away with the A+ a long time ago so an A is 4.0, A- 3.667 B+ 3.333 B 3.000 etc. Each school is different on how they award their honors.

By anon85247 — On May 19, 2010

I've been awarded "cum laude" with a 3.8 average.

By anon83266 — On May 10, 2010

Top 10 percent is cum laude

Top 5 percent is magna cum laude

Top 1 percent is summa cum laude

So, the actual GPA for who receives what honor changes from year to year and class to class depending on how many students get a certain GPA. If more students do poorly one year, then cum laude GPA will be lower. If more do wonderfully one year, the GPA for cum laude will be a higher cut off. And so on.

By anon83118 — On May 09, 2010

At my (American) university, honors are awarded for the following GPAs:

Cum Laude: 3.50

Magna Cum Laude: 3.75

Summa Cum Laude: 3.90

By anon82380 — On May 05, 2010

Actually at my University, A B+ is a 3.5 average.

By anon80981 — On Apr 29, 2010

At my university it is: 3.25 + Cum laude

3.50 + Magna cum laude

3.70 + Summa cum laude

By anon79985 — On Apr 25, 2010

Here in Puerto Rico:

3.50-3.59 cum laude

3.60-3.79 magna cum laude

3.80-4.00 summa cum laude

For Master's degree there are no honors.

By anon79399 — On Apr 22, 2010

My university awarded me a cum laude for a 3.71 GPA. So I guess it really differs depending on the school.

By anon76480 — On Apr 10, 2010

To waynecharney's comment on Vet Med being a degree earned in five years. I am not aware of any state that would allow a veterinarian to practice without a doctorate, a DVM. This usually requires the same four years of vet school after earning a bachlors degree. Many vets continue training beyond their DVM as interns and residents. It's rather frightening to think there might be vets in practice with so little training.

By anon72705 — On Mar 24, 2010

How about the different grading system which has 1.0 as highest?

By anon66145 — On Feb 17, 2010

3.5-3.59 cum laude

3.6-3.79 magna cum laude

3.8 or better summa cum laude

By anon57252 — On Dec 21, 2009

There are two separate GPA calculation methods in use in the United States. The more common one does indeed go by 3/10ths, as noted in the editor's reply above. Other schools (like mine) go by 1/3rds.

By anon47848 — On Oct 07, 2009

Do *all* Universities *not* recognize the cum laude levels in graduate programs? Or do some universities in the U.S.A. recognize it?

By suesweeney — On Aug 20, 2009

Is it proper to print cum laude beginning with a capital letter? I was taught it was to be written all lower case but I see it printed beginning with acapital letter often now.

By anon38805 — On Jul 28, 2009

One school I went to (my community college) had 3.55 as an A-. My current school (university) has a 3.7 as an A-. Regardless of the fact that both schools were different, the combined G.P.A. of both schools works off the number system, not the letter system. Therefore, even though I received an A- (for an example) at my community college, it was worth a B+ at my university.

By waynecharney — On Apr 23, 2008

Some university administrators suggest that the cum laude designations ought properly be reserved for baccalaureate degrees alone and that, because the attainment of a Master's degree represents honorable academic achievement in and of itself, graduate students working for a Master's should not (indeed, cannot) be honored with cum laude designations. However, what about those academic programs (usually at least five years long) wherein the first degree offered to its majors is the Master's, there no longer being any baccalaureate degree available depending on the institution? Vet Med is one such program, but increasingly first-professional degree Bachelor's programs in Architecture are switching to a first-professional degree Master's in Architecture instead. Would cum laude be permissible under those unique circumstances? And how does one make a case for it?

By anon11436 — On Apr 16, 2008

3.7 is far from an A minus average. An A minus average would be more accurately described as 3.3

By sikkim — On Mar 12, 2008

the university i went to honored students who had a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.7 with "cum laude". that is equivalent to an "A minus" grade point average. if i recall correctly a 3.8 was required for magna cum laude, and 3.9 for summa cum laude.

i think that some universities use percentages to assign these honors... for example, top x% are cum laude, top y% magna cum laude etc.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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