Magna Cum Laude vs. Summa Cum Laude: What's the Difference?

Updated March 29, 2023

In educational programs including primary, secondary and postsecondary school, there are several recognitions you may be rewarded for earning good grades. Three common academic achievements one can receive at graduation include Latin honors cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.

In this article, we explain what a Latin honor is, what grade point average (GPA) is and what magna cum laude and summa cum laude mean; and list some frequently asked questions about these honors and other academic honors your school could award.

Key takeaways:

  • Latin honors include three levels of academic achievement—cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude. There's no set standard to qualify for these honors, and each school, college or university is free to set its own criteria.

  • Cum laude: “With distinction,” typically 3.5–3.6 GPA or top 16-35% of class

  • Magna cum laude: “With great distinction,” typically 3.7–3.8 GPA or top 6-15% of class

  • Summa cum laude: “With highest honor,” typically 3.9–4.0 GPA or top 1-5% of class

A person standing in front of a building wearing a blue cap and gown and holding a diploma.

What is a Latin honor?

A Latin honor is one of three achievement awards typically bestowed at graduation ceremonies at schools, community colleges, colleges and universities. Each represents a certain level of academic achievement. It's a mark of distinction that graduating students and professionals can include on their resumes to illustrate their higher education success.

The three titles—cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude—are Latin terms, thus the Latin honors reference. The three honors and their average required GPAs on a 4.0 scale include:

  • Summa cum laude: 3.9-4.0 GPA

  • Magna cum laude: 3.7-3.8 GPA

  • Cum laude: 3.5-3.6 GPA

Related: Summa, Magna and Cum Laude Graduation Requirements

What is GPA?

GPA, or "grade point average," is your high school or college grades added together and divided by the number of classes you took. Using a scale from 1.0 to 4.0, your GPA tracks your progress during your studies. College and graduate school admission offices and prospective employers look at your cumulative GPA to see how well you’ve performed academically to qualify your potential for success.

You can use this GPA conversion chart to convert your letter or percentage grade to a GPA score on the 4.0 scale.

Letter Grade Percentage Grade 4.0 GPA Scale
A+ 97-100% 4.0
A 93-96% 4.0
A- 90-92% 3.7
B+ 87-89% 3.3
B 83-86% 3.0
B- 80-82% 2.7
C+ 77-79% 2.3
C 73-76% 2.0
C- 70-72% 1.7
D+ 67-69% 1.3
D 65-66% 1.0
F Below 65% 0.0

Use this GPA calculator to calculate your semester GPA and overall GPA.

Semester 1

Your semester GPA is 4.00

Your overall GPA is 4.00

Related: Weighted GPA vs. Unweighted GPA: Which Do Colleges Use?

What is magna cum laude?

Magna cum laude recognizes students who graduate "with great distinction." It is the second-highest in the Latin honors. Its requirements vary by school, but it's typically designated for students in the top 6-15% of a class or those with a GPA of 3.7-3.8.

In higher-education institutions with different schools and departments, administrators may calculate your GPA compared only to your classmates in your school. For example, if you're studying to be an engineer, your school may compare your GPA only to other engineering students. If you’re unsure of how your GPA is calculated, check with your adviser.

Related: How to List Magna Cum Laude on a Resume

What is summa cum laude?

Summa cum laude, which means "with highest honor," is the highest academic award designated for students in the top 1-5% of a class or those with a GPA of 3.9-4.0. Like the magna cum laude honor, the requirements for summa cum laude may vary by institution and department.

Usually, the only way to earn above a 4.0 is to enroll in honors programs at your high school like advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) courses.

Related: What Is a Typical Summa Cum Laude GPA?

Magna cum laude vs. summa cum laude

Summa cum laude and magna cum laude are the most prestigious awards and usually are handed out to a select few at an institution's graduation or honors convocation.

Magna cum laudeSumma cum laude
Latin translation"With great praise""With highest praise"
Required GPA3.7-3.8 GPA3.9-4.0 GPA

Related: Do You Put Dean's List on Your Resume? When and How to Include It

Frequently asked questions

What is cum laude?

Cum laude is a Latin phrase meaning "with praise," and if you earn this designation, it means you're graduating as an honor student. To graduate cum laude, you usually have to be in at least the top 16-35% academically or have a GPA of 3.5-3.6.

What is the highest cum laude?

The highest academic distinction is summa cum laude, followed by magna cum laude and cum laude.

What is a honors convocation?

An honors convocation is an annual celebration where institutions recognize their students for academic achievements. This event usually takes place around the same time as graduation, and faculty members and the highest-achieving students may give a few speeches throughout the ceremony. After the ceremony, schools usually hold a reception where family, faculty and scholars can gather to converse and celebrate.

Related: Should You Include GPA On Your Resume?

Other academic honors

Along with Latin honors, colleges and universities may recognize students with other types of awards:

  • Cum laude: This Latin phrase means "with praise," and this award is usually given to those who earn at least a 3.5-3.6 GPA, or the top 16-35% of a class, depending on the institution.

  • Dean's list: This is an academic distinction that recognizes the highest-achieving students at an institution. This award is usually only for full-time students who earn a high GPA. It's usually awarded to students every semester. Schools often publish the names of students who are on the Dean's list in school newsletters or local newspapers.

  • Chancellor's scholars: Unlike many other awards, this honor is for incoming students. It's a scholarship for students who earned good grades during high school. It may include funding for living expenses, tuition and course materials.

  • Honor students: Those who work on special projects or enroll in honors courses may receive this designation. Honors courses are higher-level courses that cover more material than regular courses.

  • Academic distinction: Schools base this award on how many courses you complete for credit and letter grade. Students who earn a 3.5 to 3.9 GPA in their courses may earn the academic distinction while students who earn a 4.0 GPA may earn the highest academic distinction.

  • Valedictorian and salutatorian: These are two of the highest possible honors you can earn upon graduation. You can become valedictorian if you are the student with the highest academic achievements. If you are the second highest-achieving student, you earn the title of salutatorian. Students with these honors often speak at graduation and offer their peers words of wisdom.

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