How do I Graduate Magna Cum Laude?

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  • Written By: Kathy Heydasch
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2018
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Magna cum laude is an academic distinction given to undergraduates who perform near the top of their class. In order to graduate with this distinction, a student must check with his or her particular educational institution upon enrollment to determine the criteria by which he or she will be evaluated near the close of the four-year term. The criteria are typically based on a person's grade point average (GPA), but might involve extracurricular activities as well.

A rule of thumb for graduating with cum laude honors is to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or better. Typically, a 3.5 to 3.74 GPA will earn a cum laude honor, a 3.75 to 3.99 GPA will earn a magna cum laude honor, and a 4.0+ GPA will earn a summa cum laude honor. Some schools may instead award the distinction to a top percentage of a graduating class, instead of basing it on GPA. The honor is usually written on the face of the diploma.

There is no universal standard, however, for earning the honor. Each educational system is afforded the right to set its own guidelines for bestowing the honor upon a group of undergraduates. For example, one institution may rely solely upon grade point averages in order to determine the recipients. Another may take into account a certain amount of extracurricular activities or the difficulty of the classes taken when evaluating the students.


Typically, a graduating class will have a valedictorian and salutatorian, representing the two top spots in the class academically. Honors such as magna cum laude recognize those students who performed near the top of their class but could not make the two top spots. There are other levels of honor that can be bestowed upon students as well.

Magna cum laude is a lesser honor than summa cum laude, but a greater honor than cum laude. It is a Latin phrase that literally translates to "with great honor" or "with great praise." Cum laude means "with honor" or "with praise" and summa cum laude means "with highest honor" or "with highest praise." Other Latin honorifics may be used as well. For example, the term egregia cum laude refers to students who have maintained a high GPA while pursuing a more difficult curriculum.

Latin honorifics have been used in the United States since the 1800s, and their current usage varies across the globe. The United States and Canada use a similar system of honors, as do many countries in Europe. Some countries have digressed from the Latin verbiage to English translation.


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Post 5

My high school didn't have any classes where you could get over a 4.0 GPA, but it sounds like schools that do get very competitive. I had a roommate from Chicago that went to a school like that.

Being the valedictorian was a big deal. I was the valedictorian of my school, but we only had 80 people, so it wasn't that hard. I found it pretty easy to keep a 4.0 average.

I don't know which looks better to colleges, though. Is it better to be 1st of 80 in a weak program or 20th out of 300 with a 4.2 GPA at a huge school?

Post 4

I have never heard of extracurricular activities playing into whether someone got honors when they graduated. Does this usually happen in high school or college or both?

I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with it, though. When I was going through school everyone had different types of interests. How do you incorporate activities into honors? Is it number of things, types of things, what?

Just because you play a sport, I don't think that makes you any more entitled than someone who is in something like band. Even then, some people have other things going on in their lives that they don't have time for extracurriculars. Or maybe their activities are with a church or something not connected to the school.

Post 3

Interesting. I was always under the impression that magna cum laude was the highest your could get. "Magna" just sounds like it would be related to "maximum" or something.

When I was in high school, I don't think we had anything like that. If you got above a certain GPA, you got an honor cord, but I don't think there was really any title attached to it.

Post 2

My university actually had an interesting system for which people were awarded the "cum laude" honors.

In order get highest honors, someone had to place in the top 5 percent of their graduating class in terms of GPA. Usually, the top 5% was around a 3.90 GPA. From whatever the summa cum laude cutoff point was, magna cum laude went down to 3.80 and cum laude went to 3.50, I believe.

I guess the system could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. It was bad for me. Since we were judged against others in the same college, it all came down to the easier majors getting a better chance at highest honors. I happened to be in the College of Agriculture, but my major was well known as being harder than some of the other options. In the end, though, it's just a couple of words.

Post 1

I didn't even know what “magna cum laude” meant when I graduated college. I heard a lot of names called out for “cum laude,” and I heard fewer called out for “magna cum laude,” but this didn't mean anything to me.

I was among those graduating “summa cum laude,” and I asked my dad later what that meant. He found it amusing that I had just been honored with highest praise for being so smart and I didn't even know what the term meant!

Several of my friends graduated magna cum laude, and they had all studied hard and taken their courses seriously. I don't know if they were striving for this honor or not, but they were happy to have received it.

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