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What Is The Difference Between Magna Cum Laude And Summa Cum Laude?

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Many aspects of life reward the best of the best for their efforts. From the soccer fields to the baseball diamonds and from the ‘employee of the month’ wall to the school classrooms, hard work is rewarded.

Much like the Olympics have their gold, silver, and bronze to issue their best, American academia has similar ‘honors’ to award to the best of their students. Not all schools in the country may issue these honors, but those that do issue the three traditional Latin Honors: “summa cum laude,” “magna cum laude,” and “cum laude.”

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Graduating With Honors

Graduating means that you met all requirement for general education, set by the school. Therefore, you are suitable to receive a college diploma.

This special recognition is reserved for only 36 percent of the U.S. population that holds a four-year college degree. Other students are known as students who – graduate with honors.

Every school is free to set its own rules and criteria for awarding honors.

Graduation honors are a sign that you went beyond basic requirements for earning a college degree. Your work ethic, commitment and ability to go to that extra mile is seen in academic honors.

Therefore, graduating with honors is a big deal, especially when you are wearing that graduation gown and your parents are the loudest people at the graduation ceremony.

Being an honor student can improve your image with a future employer, or it can boost your future formal education and specialization.

Each school establishes criteria for choosing and awarding honors. Graduating with honors typically means that the student received Latin honors like cum laude. Latin honors are nationally recognized as symbols of undergraduate excellence.

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Magna Cum Laude

Magna Cum Laude is used by academic institutions to honor above average students who earned their academic degree “with great distinction.” Every student gets an opportunity to graduate with “cum laude” – with distinctions, and “magna cum laude” is simply more prestigious, compared to cum laude.

Magna Cum Laude is one of three traditional honorary ranks, and although they are mostly seen in college students, nowadays they are seen even in some high schools across the States. On the other hand, these honorary ranks are not that common in other parts of the world.

Students who graduate with “magna cum laude” are seen wearing different marks, or designations during their commencement ceremonies. In addition, the name of that person is in most cases read loud along with her or his name. This honor is usually seen on a student’s official transcript after graduating.

Criteria for earning “magna cum laude” may vary from school to school, but in most cases, they include GPA (grade point average), class rank or a total number of hours completed on a specific academic department or honors designations from an academic department. Honors like these tend to vary from school to school.

Summa Cum Laude

Summa Cum Laude presents a Latin phrase meaning to “the highest distinction” and it’s reserved for graduates from a college and university, exclusively. Receivers of this honor are known for achieving the highest level of academic excellence.

This highest rank is reserved for only 5% of students, and it’s considered to be extremely personal in terms of sacrifice and commitment that are a need in order for one student to achieve it.

Criteria for earning “summa cum laude” may vary from university to university, but in most cases, it includes students who earn a cumulative grade point average 3.75-4.00 The best way to know for sure how you can get this prestigious honor next to your name is to inform yourself at the very beginning of the studies.

In short, those who have earned the honor of “summa cum laude” have achieved the best possible grades.

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The criteria for meeting any of the three honors have no national standard, allowing each school to set their own criteria necessary to qualify for these honors.

Magna Cum Laude Vs. Summa Cum Laude

Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude know Latin honors that are used mostly in the States to celebrate exceptional students success and acknowledge their accomplishment during their college years.

Each honor comes with specific requirements and standards. However, they do have a mutual link. Their connection is seen in celebrating academically above average students and honoring them with the unique title next to their name once they graduate.

These Latin honors are seen on every students’ a paper after graduation. You may look at it as a forever-appreciation. In addition, it makes a nice addition to your resume. Although Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude are given to above average students, there is a slight difference between them.

Magna cum laude is for students who have graduated “with great distinction,” while summa cum laude is for students who have graduated “with the highest distinction.”

Therefore, Magna cum laude is more than regular ‘cum laude’ (with distinction) and less than Summa Cum Laude. Again, bear in mind that there is no universal standard for granting the honors and that it’s up to each individual school, or even the school’s individual department, to determine what constitutes the award.

GPA Requirements

Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences grade point average (GPA) must be 3.9 for summa cum laude, 3.7 for magna cum laude, and 3.5 for cum laude. At the University of Pennsylvania sets their requirements at 3.8, 3.6, and 3.4 with the numbers varying only slightly.

Colleges form the same state may also have different requirements for the same honors as well. For example, Michigan’s Law School requires a 4.0 GPA for summa cum laude, but the requirement for the same honor at Michigan’s College of Engineering is only 3.75.

Ranks Instead of GPA

When a school does not issue honors by exact GPA numbers, it is likely a few more students are graced with the Latin Honors so many Ivy League students pine for.

A total of 30% of New York University’s undergraduate students in the top 5% receive summa cum laude, the next 10% magna cum laude, with the 15% after that receiving cum laude.

Honors at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences average to about 25%. The top 5% of graduates receive summa cum laude, the next 8% Magna cum, and the last 12% cum laude.

Not Just Numbers

Not all university-level institutions are solely focused on their students’ GPA. They may have other requirements for the honors, such as completing a thesis, a set number of advanced courses, or possibly a faculty member’s recommendation.

The smallest disciplinary infraction, depending on the school you are attending, may completely strip you of any chance to receive Latin Honors.

Stanford University, which does not issue Latin Honors, issues something only slightly similar. The top 15% of the graduating class receive a Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction, based mainly on their GPA.

If you’re curious about a school’s requirements for their honors, many will have that information in a section of their website related to graduation.

Do They Do Anything?

Some of you might be wondering “does getting these honors actually do anything?” A pair of researchers set out to answer that very question. They shared their finding in a 2017 paper titled “The Effect of Latin Honors on Earning”:

“We find that obtaining honors provides an economic return in the labor market, but this benefit only persists for two years,” the paper stated. “By the third year after college, we see no effect of having received honors on wages, suggesting that firms may use the signal for new graduates, but they do not rely on the signal for determining the pay of more experienced workers.”

The findings also concluded that it was only a handful of schools that saw any worthwhile benefits from the honors issued.

There are many in the academic world who find the systems of Latin Honors a detriment to a student’s intellectual growth, forcing students to value solely the GPA they receive and not the knowledge it took to get them there.

A student’s 2011 editorial in a Harvard University student paper argued for the establishment of the system:

“By rewarding students who achieve a minimum GPA across classes, the Latin honors system does more to discourage academic achievement than to encourage it. It encourages students to view classes outside of their concentration as a means to an end, the end being the highest possible grade, rather than an opportunity for intellectual exploration.”

What do you think? Are the Latin honors something to keep around? Or have they existed long enough?

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