Latin honors

Latin honors are Latin phrases used to indicate the level of academic distinction with which an academic degree was earned. This system is primarily used in the United States, Canada, and in many countries of continental Europe, though some institutions also use the English translation of these phrases rather than the Latin originals. It is similar to the British undergraduate degree classification.

Generally, a college or university's degree regulations give clear rules on the requirements to be met to obtain specific honors distinctions. These may be a specific grade point average, a requirement that the student submit an "honors thesis" or "honors project" for evaluation, a requirement that a student be part of an honors program, or graduate early, or a combination of the above. Each university sets its own standards, and these standards often vary greatly among universities. Thus, comparing Latin honors across universities is problematic; the same level of Latin honors attained at different universities may actually indicate very different levels of academic achievement.

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 taking their master's or doctorate degree. The honor is typically indicated on the diploma. Latin honors are often conferred upon law school graduates receiving a Juris Doctor or J.D., where they are generally based upon class rank or grade point average.



Many institutes confer three levels of Latin honors, although some eschew (tend to avoid) the third, namely:

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 did so while pursuing a more rigorous honors curriculum.

A rarely used distinction, maxima cum laude, "with very great honor", is an intermediary honor between the summa and the magna honors. It is sometimes used when the summa honor is reserved only for students with a perfect academic record (4.0 / 4.0 GPA).[2]

Use of Latin honors around the world

Outside of the United States, Latin honors for undergraduate degrees are less used. For example, the Netherlands use a one-class Latin honors system for the Master's diplomas. The British undergraduate degree classification is a different scheme, more widely used (with some variation) in, for example, the UK, Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Canada, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and many other countries. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Philippines are among the countries using the Latin honors system besides the United States. Malta uses 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 Austria) for doctorate degrees. Candidates must have consistently excellent grades throughout high school and university, making it very difficult to attain: only about 1 out of a total of 2500 doctoral graduates per year (i.e. less than .04%) achieve a sub auspiciis degree.

In Belgium, a university degree is awarded cum laude ("avec distinction" in French, "met onderscheiding" in Dutch) to people achieving a 70% average, which roughly corresponds to the top 25% of a class. It is awarded magna cum laude ("avec grande distinction" or "met grote onderscheiding") to those achieving a 80% average (top 5-10% of a class), and summa cum laude ("avec la plus grande distinction" or "met de grootste onderscheiding") to people with a 90% average (top 1%).

In Brazil, the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (ITA - Aeronautical Institute of Technology) awards the cum laude honor for graduates with average 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. Up to 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 Finnish Matriculation Examinations at the end of high school equivalent 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"). Finnish universities, when grading Master's theses and Doctoral dissertations, use the same scale with the addition of the grade of non sine laude approbatur (N; "not without praise accepted") between lubenter and cum laude.

In France, Sciences Po Paris (also known as Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris = Paris Institute of Political Studies, or "Sciences Po") attributes a cum laude honor to those graduating in the best 5% of their class and a summa cum laude honor to those graduating in the best 2%. Otherwise, honors are generally given with French expressions: assez bien ("rather good"), bien ("good"), très bien ("very good") for high school graduation (baccalauréat); and honorable, très honorable, très honorable avec félicitations du jury for doctor's degrees.

In Germany, the range of degrees are: 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, bachelors or masters 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- are: 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 (e lode being the equivalent in Italian) is used as an increasing level of the highest grade for both exams and degrees, in all its levels ; sometimes passing an exam cum laude has only an honorific meaning, sometimes it influences the average grade and can be useful for a student to be awarded on his or her degree cum laude (In Italy, 110/110 e Lode, where 110/110 is the highest rank that can be achieved during the academic studies).

In the Netherlands, only two classes of honors are used: eervolle vermelding ("with honorable mention") and cum laude, typically only to mark exceptional achievement. These are dependent on an absolute minimal grade point average, and an outstanding thesis. Generally, less than 20% receive the "with honorable mention" distinction, and "cum laude" is even harder to attain (less than 1%-10% depending on the university and study program). Requirements vary among universities but, unlike the Anglo-American system, the honor is typically reserved only to the best students in an (under)graduate course (somewhat equivalent to summa or magna cum laude in the US, depending on the university). It is also possible to receive a PhD degree cum laude, although this honor is even rarer than for master graduates. Typically less than 5% of graduating PhDs can receive this mention, and only if their research results are considered outstanding. Due to the difficulty of determining this, some universities/ fields of study very seldom award doctorates cum laude.

In Russia and the former Soviet Union the honor system is based on the grade point averages. At least 4.75 out of 5.0 points required for the cum laude degree (“с отличием” (“s otlichiem”) in Russian or “red diploma”).[3] The graduate has to receive a perfect grade on all final examinations. Usually less than 2% of all graduated students are able to 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 secondary 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 secondary school students who have one or two grades of 4 on their final exams or other subjects as listed in the secondary school diploma ("attestat o srednem obrazovanii").

In Switzerland, the degrees rite, cum laude, magna cum laude, insigni cum laude and summa cum laude are used.

In the UK the Latin cum laude is used in Latin versions of honors degrees (e.g. University of Edinburgh[4]) to denote a Bachelor with Honours degree, whereas the classification is stated like in the English equivalent e.g. Primi Ordinis for First Class etc.

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 per cent on the general scale, or seventy per cent on the last three years, or seventy-five per cent 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. ^ A more direct translation of laude from Latin would be "praise".
  2. ^ "U of Portland Honors at Graduation". 
  3. ^ Russian Education Law — В соответствии с Законом Российской Федерации «Об образовании» № 12-ФЗ от 13 января 1996 г. и типовым «Положением об итоговой аттестации выпускников высших учебных заведений», утвержденным приказом Минобразования России от 25 марта 2003 г. № 1155.
  4. ^ Latin Versions of Degree Parchments, University of Edinburgh]

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