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Latin honours 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 Statesmarker, 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 honours distinctions. These may be a specific grade point average, a requirement that the student submit an "honours thesis" or "honours project" for evaluation, a requirement that a student be part of an honours 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 honours across universities is often meaningless; the same level of Latin honours attained at different universities may actually indicate very different levels of academic achievement.

These honours 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 honours 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 honours, although some eschew the third, namely:
  • cum laude, "with honor" (direct translation: "with praise")
  • magna cum laude, "with great honor" (direct translation: "with great praise")
  • summa cum laude, "with highest honor" (direct translation: "with highest praise")

It is difficult to generalize what percentage of top marks correspond to each of the degrees of honours, given that the percentages or grade point averages required for each rank can differ from university to university. Degrees summa cum laude used to be quite rare—often reserved for the top one percent of students at the most—and degrees magna cum laude only slightly less so. This situation has changed somewhat and there has been a trend towards less selectivity in assigning honours degrees.

A fourth distinction, egregia cum laude, "with outstanding praise", 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 honours curriculum. One of the Fordham Universitymarker's student newspapers in the United States translated this as "with hysterical praise", and so the university dropped the distinction and awards such degrees with summa honours, and a notation In cursu honorum, "in the honours course". This latter notation is used by some other schools as well.

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

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, Georgia, Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya, Australia, Barbados, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Mexico , New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and many other countries. The Dominican Republic and Philippines are among the countries using the Latin honours system besides the United States. Maltamarker uses the Latin honors on the degree certificates, but the UK model is shown on the transcript.

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 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), summa cum laude (with highest honors). These degrees are mostly used when a doctorate is conferred, not for diplomas and the newly introduced bachelor and master degrees.

In France, the Institut d'Études Politiques de Parismarker (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"), très bien avec félicitations du jury ("very good with praise from the board") for high school graduation (baccalauréat); and honorable, très honorable, très honorable avec félicitations du jury for doctor's degrees.

In Belgium, a university degree is awarded cum laude ("avec distinction" in French, "met onderscheiding" in Dutch) to people achieving a 65% average, which roughly corresponds to the top 25% of a class. It is awarded magna cum laude ("avec grande distinction" in French, "met grote onderscheiding") to those achieving a 75% average (top 5-10% of a class), and summa cum laude ("avec la plus grande distinction" - "met de grootste onderscheiding") to people with a 85% average (top 1%).

In the Netherlands, only two classes of honours are used: eervolle vermelding ("with honourable 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 honourable mention" distinction, and "cum laude" is even harder to attain (less than 5-10% depending on the university). Requirements vary among universities but, unlike the Anglo-American system, the honour is typically reserved only to the best students in an undergraduate course (somewhat equivalent to summa or magna cum laude in the US, depending on the university). It is also possible to receive a graduate (PhD) degree cum laude, although this honour 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 Switzerland, the degrees rite, cum laude, magna cum laude, insigni cum laude and summa cum laude are used.

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 Brazil, the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáuticamarker (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 2006, only 18 graduates have received the summa cum laude honor at ITA.

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 (“s otlichiem” in Russian or “red diploma”). Usually less than 2% of all graduated students are able to accomplish this (depending on the university and year). Russian high schools also award a Gold Medal to the student who achieves a perfect score in all examinations.

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 hard to attain: only about 10 out of a total of 2500 doctoral graduates per year (i.e. less than 0.5%) achieve a sub auspiciis degree.

History of usage in the United States

Harvard Collegemarker first awarded final honours to its graduates in 1869. 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:

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

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