What is Magna Cum Laude?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Magna cum laude is a Latin phrase meaning “with great honor,” and is a title awarded to students when they graduate to recognize sustained academic achievement. Latin honors are typically only used for undergraduate university degrees, although they sometimes appear in high schools and at the graduate level. There is no universal standard for assessing who should receive honors and who should not, which means that a magna cum laude award can mean slightly different things depending on the institution. The distinction is most common in the United States, but occasionally appears in other countries as well.

To graduate magna cum laude is to graduate with "with great honor."
To graduate magna cum laude is to graduate with "with great honor."

Levels of Honor

There are typically three levels of Latin honors. The first and most basic is cum laude, which means “with honor.” The “magna” distinction comes next, followed by the prestigious summa cum laude — “with highest honor.” Students who graduate at the top of their class typically receive one of these three distinctions.

Graduating magna cum laude usually requires a high level of commitment to academics and near perfect grades.
Graduating magna cum laude usually requires a high level of commitment to academics and near perfect grades.

Announcement and Distinction

The magna cum laude honor is usually announced at graduation alongside other honors and awards. Students who receive this distinction often wear a special rope or cord on their graduation gown to signal their achievement to others. The honor isn't just about an opportunity to bask in praise, however; being able to say that one has graduated magna cum laude is a lifetime distinction that can attract attention on resumes and graduate school applications, especially if the award comes from a prominent university.

Calculation Methods

Latin honors are typically awarded based on cumulative grade point average, though different schools are usually free to set their own standards. Students who graduate “summa cum laude” typically have near perfect grades during all of their years of study. A magna graduate may have a few imperfect marks, but is generally regarded as being among the school’s strongest academic performers.

Though most Latin honors are awarded to students based on how they stack up against others in their graduating class, some departments will offer separate honors within a degree program. A chemistry student who had excellent grades in required science classes might be awarded a chemistry degree “magnum cum laude” by her department even if her grades on the whole were not high enough to qualify her for that honor at the larger university level. Much of this depends on individual university policy.

There may also be certain requirements in terms of course load or difficulty in order to earn a magna cum laude distinction. For example, many schools require students to take an honors class or write an honors thesis in order to graduate with a Latin distinction. In some cases, students must also be nominated by professors or fellow students. Extracurricular activities may also be taken into account when considering awards so as to recognize well-rounded students rather than pure academic talents. Strong grades are almost always a prerequisite — they just may not be the final means of calculation.

Problems With Grade Inflation

Due to grade inflation, a high grade point average alone is not always a great indicator of academic success. Grade inflation happens when professors award high grades to students who may not necessarily have earned them, or when classes are easier than average, which can lead to a disproportionate number of high marks.

Academic honors help to distinguish especially high performing students from the rest of the school, ensuring that the top performers in each graduating class get special recognition for their work. The number of honors to be awarded in any given year is often capped so that the system will not be cheapened by an excess of recognized students.

A student who graduates magna cum laude is generally considered to be among the school's highest performers.
A student who graduates magna cum laude is generally considered to be among the school's highest performers.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


No, Snoopy was making a point that went over your head. He/she was saying that her school used the semester before she graduated to provide her/his GPA for distinction, that while he/she ended with summa status, the announcement at commencement was based off of the fall semester's gpa. This is sometimes the case when graduation ceremonies and printed material must be set before a registrar's office can recalculate grades. Snoopy's diploma will say summa on it, but she will be assigned magna based on her gpa before she buckled down.


The University of Central Florida takes a stronger approach by calculating off the last three semesters, tus preventing someone from achieving this honor through a single final semester of cracking down. It requires sustained superior performance.


@Snoopy: If latin honors were awarded based on the last semester the whole purpose of distinction would be lost. Everybody would study hard their final semester.

Seems you are lucky to have magna honors if that is your logic.


I was completely unaware the GPA used to determine your cum laude recognition is not the current, or very last, semester of college. I was under the impression it was your last semester and worked harder my last semester to raise my GPA. I wanted a summa cum laude recognition, especially because I was the first female in my family to graduate from a University. When I received a magna cum laude rope in the mail I called the registrar’s office to verify. That’s how I learned they actually use the previous semester’s scores to determine your credits and Latin honor status. Although I was proud to wear the magna cum laude rope at graduation, I was a little disappointed because I achieved a 3.9 GPA. That would have qualified me to graduate summa cum laude in my class.


summa (highest) cum (with) laude (honor/praise).

magna (great) cum (with) laude (honor/praise).

cum (with) laude (honor/praise).

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