What Is Magna Cum Laude?
Magna cum laude is an academic honorific used by educational institutions to signify that an academic degree was earned with notable distinction. The Latin phrase means "with great praise."
Magna cum laude is one of three commonly used academic degree honors at educational institutions in the United States and many other countries. The others are summa cum laude, meaning with highest distinction, and cum laude, or "with distinction." The titles are referred to as Latin honors because they retain their original Latin forms.
- Magna cum laude is an academic honorific awarded to students who have achieved academic excellence.
- Many colleges award magna cum laude honors in addition to summa cum laude honors, which are above magna cum laude, and cum laude honors, which are just below.
- The practice of awarding Latin honors began at Harvard in the mid-19th century and has spread to colleges and universities around the world.
Understanding Magna Cum Laude
Magna cum laude is more prestigious than cum laude honors but less prestigious than summa cum laude. The criteria by which each of these distinctions is achieved depends on the specific requirements of each institution. The awarding of Latin honors is common in colleges and universities in the United States, although not all bestow them. Many high schools also grant Latin honors.
Magna Cum Laude
Latin honors are most commonly awarded in conjunction with a bachelor's degree. Students who graduate with honors may wear stoles of a distinct color or some other designation during commencement ceremonies, and their honors may be cited when their names are read. Latin honors are generally included in a student's official transcript.
Requirements for Magna Cum Laude
The criteria for earning Latin honors may include the student's grade point average (GPA), class rank, number of hours completed, and recommendations from an academic department.
Some schools have substituted other titles, such as "with distinction," in place of or in addition to the traditional Latin terms.
GPA requirements for Latin honors at some colleges change every year because they are based on a percentage of the student's class.
Real-World Examples of Magna Cum Laude
The academic thresholds for honors differ among academic institutions and even between programs at the same institution. Texas A&M graduates, for instance, must complete 60 credit hours of work toward a degree while earning a GPA of 3.70 to 3.899 to earn their degree magna cum laude.
At some universities, the GPA requirements for Latin honors change every academic year because they are based on a percentage of the student's class. For example, for a student to graduate magna cum laude in engineering from the University of California Los Angeles they must finish between the top 5% and 10% of their class after completing 90 credits. For the 2019–2020 academic year, they needed a GPA of at least 3.839, while the cutoff for 2020-2021 was 3.857.
By contrast, at Harvard University, where Latin honors originated in the mid-19th century, undergraduates completing degrees with an overall GPA in the top 20% of all graduates will receive either summa cum laude or magna cum laude distinction, with the summa honorific reserved for students with the highest GPAs.
Brown University, on the other hand, does not use a student's GPA in its calculation. Students are eligible for just one Latin honor, magna cum laude, upon graduation. A student achieves the honor by earning a high percentage of "A" grades and "S" for distinction marks for courses. No more than 20% of a graduating class can earn magna cum laude honors.
Colleges may consider other non-GPA factors in their decisions to grant magna cum laude status. An institution might require that students complete an honors thesis to be eligible. Others seek letters of recommendation from faculty members, attesting to students' exceptional academic performance. Others stipulate that students must complete a certain number of advanced courses.
Some colleges, including Stanford University, do not offer Latin honors at all. Stanford bestows a single "with distinction" title on the 15% of students with the highest GPA in each graduating class.
The Value of a Magna Cum Laude Degree
The relative value of a magna cum laude degree or one with another Latin honor is difficult to judge in the context of a job application. It may mean a great deal to some employers and nothing to others. Nonetheless, as new college graduates compete for jobs, having a Latin honor on their diploma or resume certainly doesn't hurt.
It may be of greater benefit when students compete for slots in graduate school. The top law schools, for instance, expect students to have achieved certain GPAs as undergraduates, the type of high marks that are often accompanied by Latin honors.