What is Magna Cum Laude

Magna cum laude is an academic honorific used by educational institutions to signify an academic degree that was earned "with great distinction." It is one of three commonly used types of Latin honors recognized in the United States. The other two types of Latin honors are summa cum laude and cum laude, typically translated as "with highest distinction" and "with distinction," respectively.

These titles of distinction are referred to as Latin honors because they are traditionally given in their original Latin forms. Magna cum laude is typically more prestigious than cum laude honors but less prestigious than summa cum laude. The criteria by which each of these three distinctions is achieved depends upon the specific requirements of each institution. Latin honors are common in the United States in colleges, although not all institutions of higher education bestow Latin honors. They are also relatively common in high schools across the U.S. Latin honors of this type are less common in other parts of the world.

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Magna Cum Laude

BREAKING DOWN Magna Cum Laude

Magna cum laude is one of the three traditional honorary ranks awarded upon the granting of an educational degree; in most cases, Latin honors are given to students receiving a bachelor's degree, although they may also be given along with high school diplomas or other degrees as well. Students who graduate with honors may wear colored stoles or other designation during commencement ceremonies and that person's honor is often read aloud along with his or her name. Latin honors also generally appear on a student's official transcript after graduating. The criteria for earning Latin honors may include grade point average (GPA), class rank, number of hours completed and honors designations from an academic department. While the three Latin honors titles generally remain consistent from one educational institution to another, the achievements necessary in order to receive such honors tend to vary from school to school. Further, some schools have substituted in other titles, including "with distinction" and similar phrases, in place of or in addition to the traditional Latin honors.

GPA-Based Requirements

The guidelines by which each level of academic honor is achieved differs depending upon the academic institution. Every university or college outlines its own expectations for each program. Colleges and universities typically follow one of a few standards to determine a student's status as magna cum laude upon graduation. Texas A&M graduates, for instance, must complete 60 credit hours of work toward a degree while earning a GPA of 3.70 to 3.89. Latin honors at Texas A&M include the student's final grades of the last semester before graduation.

Magna Cum Laude and Class Rank

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 rank. For example, a student who graduates magna cum laude from the University of California Los Angeles engineering department must finish in the top 5% to 10% of the class after completing 90 credits. For the 2016-2017 academic year, UCLA engineering students needed a GPA of 3.802 to 3.884 to qualify as magna cum laude. In contrast, during the 2005-2006 academic year, students needed a GPA of 3.728 to 3.834. Because the overall average GPA within the pool of graduating engineering students varies from year to year, the specific GPA required to attain magna cum laude distinction at commencement at UCLA differs from year to year. In contrast, at Harvard University, where Latin honors originated in the mid-19th century, undergraduate students 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 designated for students with the highest GPAs.

At Brown University, students receive just one Latin honor, magna cum laude, upon graduation. A student achieves the honor after earning a certain percentage of distinguished marks along with an "A" grade in a course. Brown University does not calculate GPA, and no more than 20% of a graduating class can earn magna cum laude honors.

Other Factors

Some colleges include non-GPA factors in their decision to grant magna cum laude status at commencement activities. For instance, an institution might require that students complete an honors thesis in order to be eligible for Latin honors. Other schools seek faculty input by soliciting letters of recommendation on behalf of students with exceptional academic records. Still other institutions stipulate that students must complete a certain number of advanced courses in order to be considered for magna cum laude distinction. Still other colleges, such as Stanford University, do not offer Latin honors at all. Rather, Stanford bestows a single "with distinction" title upon the top 15% of students (by GPA) in each graduating class as a means of recognizing students with stellar records.

History and Usage

After its introduction in the 1860s at Harvard College, the Latin honors system quickly spread to other institutes of higher education in the United States. The system simplified the often-complex process of ranking students according to GPA and other achievements, making it a popular choice among many colleges and universities. Today, the Latin honors system is used by most four-year colleges and universities in the United States, as well as in many other parts of the world as well. Latin honors can be found at universities in Canada, Israel, and other countries, and similar systems have been adopted by many educational institutions across Europe and parts of Asia as well.

Impact Beyond College

A perennial question among college students and graduates is just how important the achievement of a Latin honor like magna cum laude is after commencement. There is of course no fixed answer to this question, as it depends upon many factors including the graduate's chosen field of work or continued study, the level of achievement and that student's other activities and distinctions while on campus; many of the top law schools, for instance, expect students to have achieved particular GPAs as undergraduates which may or may not translate to particular Latin honors distinctions depending upon those students' alma maters and degree programs. Further, the distinction between magna cum laude and the other two Latin honors may be difficult to surmise in the context of a job application. Nonetheless, as college graduates compete for employment and graduate school, among other next steps after commencement, having a Latin honor on a diploma and a resume still sets a student apart from many of his or her peers.