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Summa cum laude is a Latin phrase used to distinguish honors within the school system. The literal English translation means “with greatest honors.”
Summa cum laude is one of the Latin phrases used to indicate academic distinction and recognition in relation to a specific degree that has been earned. The Latin honors system is used primarily in the United States and Europe, as well as in some Southeast Asian countries with a colonial European history.
While Latin honors are also used in high schools, they are most often used in colleges and universities. These schools typically put in place set regulations and criteria that define what must be accomplished or achieved to reach a certain honor level. Each school sets its own standards, and the standards can vary substantially from one academic institution to the next. In most cases, the more prestigious a school is, the more rigorous the honors requirements are.
The system of utilizing Latin honors in schools in the United States began with Harvard University. The graduating class of 1869 was the first to have students receive either a cum laude or a summa cum laude honorary distinction upon graduating. The school introduced the magna cum laude distinction in 1880, around the time that other universities began recognizing graduating students with the same Latin honors.
The Three Academic Distinctions
There are three basic distinctions when honoring students based on their grades and academic achievements: cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude.
Cum laude is typically the lowest level of honors, with the phrase literally translating to “with honors.” In North American schools, the distinction is often awarded to graduates that are in the top 25% to 30% of their graduating class.
Magna cum laude, which, when translated, means “with great/greater honors,” indicates that recipients of this distinction have completed or accomplished more academically than students receiving a cum laude distinction. Across North America, graduates with a magna cum laude distinction are usually within the top 10% to 15% of their graduating class.
The highest honor, in terms of traditionally accepted Latin honors, is the summa cum laude distinction, which is used to represent students who graduate within the top 5% of their class. When translated into English, the phrase means “with highest honors,” making it the greatest Latin honor – and arguably the highest academic honor – a student can receive.
Summa cum laude is a Latin phrase, associated with the highest honorary academic distinction a graduating student can receive. Within a highly competitive financial employment marketplace, students receiving any Latin honor – especially that of summa cum laude – obtain an advantage over their competition in the job market for recent graduates.
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