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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.
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.