Magna Cum Laude

What Is Magna Cum Laude?

Magna cum laude is an academic honorific used by educational institutions to signify that an academic degree was earned with notable distinction. The meaning of magna cum laude: It is a Latin phrase that translates into English as "with great praise" and is one of three commonly used academic degree honors, with the others being summa cum laude, meaning with highest distinction, and cum laude, or "with distinction."

There is no set standard to qualify for these honors, with each school free to set its own criteria. In the United States, magna cum laude is usually achieved by obtaining a certain grade point average (GPA) or by being in the top x% of a graduating class.

Key Takeaways

  • Magna cum laude is an academic honorific awarded to students who have achieved academic excellence.
  • There is no set standard to qualify for this honor, with each school free to set its own criteria.
  • Many colleges award magna cum laude honors in addition to summa cum laude honors, which are above magna cum laude, and cum laude honors, which are just below.
  • The practice of awarding Latin honors began at Harvard in the mid-19th century and has spread to colleges and universities around the world.
  • Some colleges, including Stanford University, do not offer Latin honors at all and instead use the word "distinction" to honor students who have achieved academic excellence.

What Does Magna Cum Laude Mean?

Magna cum laude means "with great praise" and is awarded to students who have achieved academic excellence. It is more prestigious than cum laude honors but less prestigious than summa cum laude.

The criteria by which each of these distinctions is achieved depends on the specific requirements of each institution. The awarding of Latin honors—the titles are referred to as Latin honors because they retain their original Latin forms—is common in colleges and universities in the United States, although not all bestow them. Many high schools also grant Latin honors.

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Magna Cum Laude

Latin honors are most commonly awarded in conjunction with a bachelor's degree. Students who graduate with honors may wear stoles of a distinct color or some other designation during commencement ceremonies, and their honors may be cited when their names are read. Latin honors are generally included in a student's official transcript.

Magna Cum Laude Requirements

Magna cum laude is generally handed out to a student who earned high grades or some other mark of academic achievement, but not the highest possible. The criteria for receiving this honor varies and may include the student's GPA, class rank, number of hours completed, and recommendations from an academic department.

Some colleges base their GPA requirements for Latin honors on a percentage of the graduating class, meaning they change every year.

What GPA Earns a Magna Cum Laude: Real World Examples

The academic thresholds for honors differ among academic institutions and even among programs at the same institution. Texas A&M graduates, for instance, must complete 60 credit hours while earning a GPA of 3.70 to 3.899 to earn their degree magna cum laude.

At some universities, the GPA requirements for Latin honors change every academic year because they are based on a percentage of the student's class. For example, for a student to graduate magna cum laude in engineering from the University of California Los Angeles, they must finish between the top 5% and 10% of their class after completing 90 credits. For the 2021–2022 academic year, they needed a GPA of at least 3.871, while the cutoff for 2022-2023 is 3.898.

By contrast, at Harvard University, where Latin honors originated in the mid-19th century, undergraduates completing degrees with an overall GPA in the top 20% of all graduates will receive either summa cum laude or magna cum laude distinction, with the summa honorific reserved for students with the highest GPAs.

Brown University, on the other hand, does not use a student's GPA in its calculation. Students are eligible for just one Latin honor, magna cum laude, upon graduation. A student achieves the honor by earning a high percentage of "A" grades and "S" for distinction marks for courses. No more than 20% of a graduating class can earn magna cum laude honors.

Non-GPA Factors

Colleges may consider other non-GPA factors in their decisions to grant magna cum laude status. An institution might require that students complete an honors thesis to be eligible. Others seek letters of recommendation from faculty members, attesting to students' exceptional academic performance. Others stipulate that students must complete a certain number of advanced courses.

Schools with no magna cum laude

Some colleges, including Stanford University, do not offer Latin honors at all. Stanford bestows a single "with distinction" title on the 15% of students with the highest GPA in each graduating class.

Some schools have substituted other titles, such as "with distinction," in place of or in addition to the traditional Latin terms.

The Value of a Magna Cum Laude Degree

The relative value of a magna cum laude degree or one with another Latin honor is difficult to judge in the context of a job application. It may mean a great deal to some employers and nothing to others. Nonetheless, as new college graduates compete for jobs, having a Latin honor on their diploma or resume certainly doesn't hurt.

It may be of greater benefit when students compete for slots in graduate school. The top law schools, for instance, expect students to have achieved certain GPAs as undergraduates, the type of high marks that are often accompanied by Latin honors.

What Grades Do You Need for Magna Cum Laude?

The academic thresholds for magna cum laude status differ among academic institutions. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, a GPA of 3.6 is required to graduate magna cum laude, while Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences sets the bar at 3.7. Requirements are also subject to change and may differ among programs at the same institution.

GPA isn't necessarily the only factor taken into consideration, either. Colleges can look at other things, too, such as the number of hours completed and recommendations from an academic department. Some may ignore GPA and simply award Latin honors to the highest-ranked students in a class.

Is Magna Cum Laude the Highest?

No. In schools where Latin honors are used, the highest distinction is usually summa cum laude, followed by magna cum laude, and then cum laude.

Which Is Higher—Summa or Magna?

Summa cum laude is the highest honor available and is more prestigious than magna cum laude. For example, at New York University, summa cum laude is awarded to the top 5% of graduates, while the next 10% are given magna cum laude status.

The Bottom Line

Getting a degree is always a great achievement, although the job market can be so saturated with new graduates seeking employment that sometimes acquiring a certificate that you passed your courses is not enough.

Graduates often need something extra to stand out and Latin honors such as magna cum laude can help tick that box and potentially be the difference between getting called in for a job interview or not.

Article Sources
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  1. Texas A&M University Office of the Registrar. "Graduation with Honors."

  2. UCLA Samueli School of Engineering Office of Academic and Student Affairs. "Latin Honors Eligibility."

  3. Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Honors."

  4. Brown University. "The College: Latin Honors (Magna Cum Laude)."

  5. Stanford University. "Undergraduate Honors."

  6. University of Pennsylvania. "Graduation (Latin) Honors."

  7. Ohio State University. "Graduation & Research Distinction."

  8. New York University. "Graduation Honors."