Summa Cum Laude

What does 'Summa Cum Laude' mean

Summa cum laude is an academic level of distinction used by educational institutions to signify an academic degree received "with highest honor." Summa cum laude is the highest distinction of three commonly used types of Latin honors recognized in the United States, the other two being magna cum laude and cum laude.

The guidelines by which students achieve each level of academic honors differs between academic institutions; however, every university or college outlines its expectations for each program. Although Latin honors are quite common in the United States, very few countries around the world use the Latin system.

BREAKING DOWN 'Summa Cum Laude'

The three ranks occur only for bachelor's degrees as opposed to post-graduate degrees. Students who graduate with honors may wear colored stoles or other designation during commencement ceremonies, and that person's honor is read aloud along with the person's name. Latin honors generally appear on a student's official transcript and diploma after graduating. Criteria for Latin honors may include grade point average, class rank, number of hours completed and honors designations from an academic department.

GPA-Based Requirements

Some institutions only use cumulative GPA to determine who graduates with a summa cum laude designation. Students at the University of New Mexico need 60 credit hours toward graduation plus a GPA of 3.90 or higher to earn this Latin honor.

Denver University (DU) requires students to have a 3.95 GPA and 90 quarter hours. Students at DU must also submit a senior thesis, complete a senior project or receive departmental distinction to graduate summa cum laude.

Class Rank

Graduates of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst need to finish in the top 5% of the graduating class of a particular college and complete 54 credits. Students at the University of Notre Dame earn Latin honors within the college that oversees the student's major area of study. Graduates must finish in the top 5% of the class. In 2015, students in the College of Arts & Letters needed a 3.906 GPA to earn summa cum laude honors. Because class rank changes based on the performance of other students, the GPA changes each academic year. In 2009, students in the College of Arts & Letters at Notre Dame needed a 3.927 GPA to earn summa cum laude honors.

Harvard University

Harvard University's Latin honors stand out from other institutions. Faculty consider students for summa cum laude in their field through the student's overall class load, a senior thesis, and/or some type of written or oral examination. Only students who graduate in the top 5% of their graduating class may earn summa cum laude honors in their field. Harvard graduates earn summa cum laude over the entire university based on the 5% class rank, and Harvard sets standards for the academic year each May.