Latin honors

Latin honors are Latin phrases used to indicate the level of distinction with which an academic degree was earned. This system is primarily used in the United States, many countries of continental Europe, and some Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Philippines, although some institutions use translations of these phrases rather than the Latin originals. The honors distinction should not be confused with the honors degrees offered in some countries.

Generally, a college's or university's regulations set out definite criteria to be met in order for a student to obtain a given honors distinction. For example, the student might be required to achieve a specific grade point average, to submit an honors thesis for evaluation, to be part of an honors program, or to graduate early. Each university sets its own standards, and since these standards may vary widely it is possible for the same level of Latin honors conferred by different institutions to represent contrasting levels of academic achievement. Similarly, some institutions may grant equivalent (or additional) non-Latin honors to undergraduates. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, has a series of plain English grading honors based on class standing.[1]

These honors, when they are used, are almost always awarded to undergraduates earning their bachelor's, and, with the exception of law school graduates, much more rarely to graduate students receiving their master's or doctorate degree. The honor is typically indicated on the diploma. Latin honors are often conferred upon law school students graduating as a Juris Doctor or J.D., in which case they are generally based upon class rank or grade point average.


Many institutions confer three levels of Latin honors, as follows:

A fourth distinction, egregia cum laude, "with outstanding honor," has occasionally appeared. It was created to recognize students who earned the same grade point average required for the summa honor, but who did so while pursuing a more rigorous honors curriculum (used by the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University).

A rarely-used distinction, maxima cum laude, "with very great honor", is an intermediary honor between the magna and the summa honors. It is sometimes used when the summa honor is reserved only for students with a perfect academic record (used by the University of Portland and La Salle University).[5][6]

Use of Latin honors around the world

For undergraduate degrees, Latin honors are only used in a few countries such as the United States, Israel, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. Most other countries use a different scheme, such as the British undergraduate degree classification (usually used in Commonwealth countries) which is more widely used with varying criteria and nomenclature depending on country, including Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Colombia, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe and many other countries. Malta shows the Latin honors on the degree certificates, but the UK model is shown on the transcript.

In Austria, the only Latin honor in use is sub auspiciis Praesidentis rei publicae (under the auspices of the president of the republic) for doctoral degrees. Candidates must have consistently excellent grades throughout high school and university, making it very difficult to attain: only about 20 out of a total of 2,500 doctoral graduates per year (i.e. 0.8%) achieve a sub auspiciis degree.

In Belgium, the university degree awarded is limited to:


In Brazil, the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA — Aeronautical Institute of Technology) awards the cum laude honor for graduates with every individual grade above 8.5 (out of 10.0), the magna cum laude honor for graduates with average grade above 8.5 and more than 50% of individual grades above 9.5, and the summa cum laude honor for graduates with average grade above 9.5. As of 2009, only 22 graduates have received the summa cum laude honor at ITA. The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro awards the cum laude honor for graduates with average grade from 8.0 to 8.9, the magna cum laude honor for graduates with average grade from 9.0 to 9.4, and the summa cum laude honor for graduates with average grade from 9.5 to 10.0. The Federal University of Ceará awards the magna cum laude honor for undergraduates who have never failed a course, achieved an average grade from 8.5 (out of 10.0) and have received a fellowship of both Academic Extension and Teaching Initiation.

In Estonia, up until 2010 both summa cum laude and cum laude were used. Summa cum laude was awarded only for very exceptional work. Since 1 September 2010, only cum laude is used. It is awarded to bachelors, masters and integrated studies graduates. Occasionally the word kiitusega, which means "with praise", is substituted for the usual cum laude. To receive cum laude one must achieve 4.60 GPA (out of 5) and receive the highest grade (A - 5.00) for the thesis or the final examination.[7]

The Finnish Matriculation Examinations at the end of lukio uses the grades of: improbatur (I, failing; "not accepted"), approbatur (A; "accepted") lubenter approbatur (B; "willingly accepted"), cum laude approbatur (C; "accepted with praise"), magna cum laude approbatur (M; "accepted with great praise"), eximia cum laude approbatur (E; "accepted with excellent praise") and laudatur (L; "praised"). They are roughly equivalent to Finnish school grades ranging from 4 to 10. Some Finnish universities, when grading master's theses and doctoral dissertations, use the same scale with the additional grade of non sine laude approbatur (N; "accepted not without praise") between lubenter and cum laude; technical universities use a numerical scale (1-5) instead.

In France, usually the French honors "très bien avec félicitations du jury", "très bien", "bien" and "assez bien" are used. However some Grandes Écoles, like the Institut d'études politiques de Paris, HEC Paris and Universities for the Ph.D.(Doctorat), use the Latin and English titles "summa cum laude" / "graduated with highest honors" for the top 2% and "cum laude" / "graduated with honors" for the next 5% of a year.

In Germany, the range of degrees is: rite ("duly" conferred, that is, the requirements are fulfilled), cum laude (with honors), magna cum laude (with great honors), and summa cum laude (with highest honors). These degrees are mostly used when a doctorate is conferred, not for diplomas, bachelor's or master's degrees, for which numerical grades between 1.0 ("very good") and 4.0 ("pass"), and 5.0 ("fail"), are given.

In Hungary, the range of degrees — similar to the German system — is: rite ("duly" conferred, that is, the requirements are fulfilled), cum laude (with honors), summa cum laude (with highest honors). These degrees are used in university diplomas and in certain fields of sciences (medical, legal and a very few others) only. The grades of degrees are dependent on the received average points from final exams and from average points from the university studies.

In Italy, the cum laude notation ("con lode" being the equivalent in Italian) is used as an increasing level of the highest grade for both exams (30/30) and degrees (110/110), in all its levels; sometimes passing an exam cum laude (30 e lode) has only an honorific meaning, but sometimes it influences the average grade and can be useful to the student so honored. In Italy "110 e lode" (at institutions using a 110-point system) is the highest rank that can be achieved during the academic studies, although many years ago there were some other notations (that were given only to those who had attained the "lode"). These include  : bacio e abbraccio accademico ("academic kiss and embrace") menzione d'onore ("honor mention") and dignità di stampa ("dignity of printing"), and were given based on various University-specific requirements, but without a legal value.

In the Netherlands, both for bachelor's and master's programs, only one class of honors is used: cum laude (with honor). Typically it is reserved to mark exceptional achievement. It depends on an absolute minimal grade point average. Sometimes it is lost, despite a high average mark, when the student gets a mark of 6 or lower for one of the many exams (on a scale of 0–10, where 10 is the highest). Generally, less than 2% receive the cum laude distinction. It is also possible to receive a PhD degree cum laude, although this honor is even rarer than for master's graduates. In view of the difficulty and subjectivity of determining this, some universities and fields of study very seldom award doctorates cum laude. At Dutch University Colleges, cum laude, magna cum laude and, exceptionally, summa cum laude may be used.

In Russia, the honor system is based on the grade point averages. At least 4.75 out of 5.0 points are required for the cum laude degree ("с отличием" ("s otlichiem") in Russian or "with excellence").[8] The graduate has to receive a perfect grade on all final examinations. Usually less than 2% of all graduating students accomplish this (depending on the university and year). In military schools, a "red diploma" may be accompanied by a gold medal ("summa cum laude") for outstanding performance. Russian high schools also award a gold medal to the student who achieves a perfect score in all final examinations and in all other subjects not requiring a final exam. A silver medal is awarded to high school students who have one or two grades of 4 ("хорошо" in Russian or "good", being second highest grade) on their final exams or other subjects as listed in the high school diploma ("attestat o (polnom) srednem obrazovanii").

In Singapore, the Latin honors, cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude are used by Singapore Management University. Graduates from Singapore Management University have to achieve GPAs of 3.4, 3.6 and 3.8 out of 4.0 respectively and without any exceptions, in order to qualify for the Latin honors.

In Spain, the Latin honors, cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude are used for PhD degrees only. Most universities only use cum laude.

In Switzerland, the degrees rite, cum laude, magna cum laude, insigni cum laude and summa cum laude are used, but the exact GPA corresponding to each varies by institution.

In the UK the Latin cum laude is used in Latin versions of honors degrees by a few universities (e.g. University of Edinburgh[9]) to denote a Bachelor with Honours degree, but the further classification is stated as in English, e.g. Primi Ordinis for First Class etc.

In Ukraine, the university education honor system is based on by-law # 161 (02.06.1993) of The Ministry of Education of Ukraine ( In order for a student to graduate a university with a diploma with honors (cum laude), students have to receive mark '5' (excellent) at least on 75% of courses, receive mark 4 (good) at max 25% of courses, and pass the state exams only with mark '5' (excellent). Also, students are expected to have participated in research projects with visible results.[10]

History of usage in the United States

In 1869, Harvard College became the first college in the United States to award final honors to its graduates. From 1872 to 1879, cum laude and summa cum laude were the two Latin honors awarded to graduates. Beginning in 1880, magna cum laude was also awarded:

The Faculty then prepared regulations for recommending candidates for the Bachelor's degree, either for an ordinary degree or for a degree with distinction; the grades of distinction being summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. The degree summa cum laude is for those who have attained ninety percent on the general scale, or have received Highest Honors in any department, and carries with it the assignment of an oration on the list of Commencement parts; the degree magna cum laude is for those who have attained eighty percent on the general scale, or have received Honors in any department, and carries with it the assignment of a dissertation; and the degree cum laude is to be given to those who attain seventy-five percent on the general scale, and to those who receive Honorable Mention in any study together with sixty-five percent on the general scale, or seventy percent on the last three years, or seventy-five percent on the last two.
Annual Reports of the President and Treasurer of Harvard College, 1877–78

In an 1894 history of Amherst College, college historian William Seymour Tyler traced Amherst's system of Latin honors to 1881, and attributed it to Amherst College President Julius Hawley Seelye:

Instead of attempting to fix the rank of every individual student by minute divisions on a scale of a hundred as formerly, five grades of scholarship were established and degrees were conferred upon the graduating classes according to their grades. If a student was found to be in the first or lowest grade, he was not considered as a candidate for a degree, though he might receive a certificate stating the facts in regard to his standing; if he appeared in the second grade the degree of A.B. was conferred upon him rite; if in the third, cum laude; if in the fourth, magna cum laude; while if he reached the fifth grade he received the degree summa cum laude. The advantages of this course, as stated to the trustees by the president, are that it properly discriminates between those who, though passing over the same course of study, have done it with great differences of merit and of scholarship, and that it furnishes a healthy incentive to the best work without exciting an excessive spirit of emulation.

The new system of administration, of which the above is a part, is so original and peculiar that it is known as the Amherst System.

See also


  1. Undergraduate grading honors
  2. The usual translation of laude from Latin is "with praise".
  5. "U of Portland Honors at Graduation".
  8. Russian Education Law — В соответствии с Законом Российской Федерации «Об образовании» № 12-ФЗ, 13 January 1996, and типовым «Положением об итоговой аттестации выпускников высших учебных заведений», утвержденным приказом Минобразования России, 25 March 2003 № 1155.
  9. Latin Versions of Degree Parchments at the Wayback Machine (archived June 15, 2007), University of Edinburgh
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