What Is Cum Laude?

Cum laude is Latin for "with praise" or "with honor" and represents an academic level of achievement. Educational institutions use the phrase to signify an academic degree awarded to someone with honorable excellence in academic coursework. It is a mark of distinction that some students and others use on their resumes to illustrate their success in their higher education.

Cum laude is one of three commonly used Latin honors designations recognized in the United States, the other two being summa cum laude and magna cum laude. The terms come from Latin, so they often are called Latin honors. They are common in the United States, but very few countries around the world use them. This honor is rewarded due to academic success and reflects strong grades.

Key Takeaways

  • Cum laude is one of three "Latin honors" educational institutions bestow on someone's academic degree.
  • The phrase is Latin for "with distinction," or "with honor," or "with praise."
  • Educational institutions have different academic criteria that must be met for each honor.
  • Students are never allowed to apply or campaign for Latin honors.
  • Students must have a specific grade point average even to be considered for this honor.

Understanding Cum Laude

Cum laude signifies a distinguished level of academic achievement. An even higher distinction is magna cum laude, which means "with high honor" or "with high praise." And summa cum laude bestows the highest honor or praise on its recipient. 

The guidelines by which each level of academic honor is achieved differ at academic institutions. Each university or college typically outlines its expectations for each award.

The criteria for earning Latin honors may include grade-point average (GPA), class ranking, the number of credit hours completed, and other academic achievements.

Students receiving Latin honors are typically recognized during graduation ceremonies, and the designation appears on the student's diploma. Students graduating with honors may also be allowed to wear some special symbol, like a specific sash or tassel on their mortarboard.

The cum laude designation appears on the student's diploma, and some graduates may choose to highlight this honor on their resumes.

Special Considerations

Some universities bestow Latin honors at certain GPA levels. Typically, a GPA of 3.5 or higher is required to receive the cum laude designation, with higher GPAs necessary for magna cum laude and summa cum laude. The designation is based only on an individual student's final GPA.

Other universities reserve Latin honors for a stated percentage of each graduating class. That means only a top percentage of a class may receive any honors, and smaller percentages of the student body may receive the magna cum laude and summa cum laude honors designations.

An outstanding GPA alone may not be enough to earn these honors at Ivy League universities and other highly competitive schools. Faculty committees also consider students' academic records and other academic achievements, like outstanding papers, published articles, and well-researched assignments. The professors will usually recommend honors for exceptional students.

What Is the Difference Between Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Summa Cum Laude?

While cum laude represents a distinguished level of achievement, magna cum laude is one level above. Meaning “with great praise” in Latin, magna cum laude differs from summa cum laude, which in turn means “highest praise” or “highest honor,” representing the highest level of academic distinction. These designations may be awarded on different factors such as GPA, class ranking, or outside academic achievements. 

What Is an Example of Cum Laude?

Consider the ivy league school, the University of Pennsylvania, where students must have a GPA of 3.4 to graduate cum laude. By contrast, New York University awards students cum laude if students fall within the top 30% of the graduating class, and some colleges within the university have their ranking system. Ultimately, these designations can vary widely across academic institutions and are evaluated across differing metrics.

Is It Hard to Earn a Cum Laude?

Most students need to have an above-average to high grade point to earn this designation.