Read about many accomplished business people and it’s likely you’ll see the phrase “graduated with high honors.” Successful executives like Marissa Mayer and Dean B. Nelson worked hard in college and beyond to get where they are today. Those who also graduated with the same honors might be aware of what the phrase means, but others might not. Falling into that category upon graduation is something usually only the best of academics achieve. So what does it mean?
There are three tiers of high honors: cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. These are Latin phrases used to describe the level of achievement. Cum laude literally means “with praise” and is the first tier of high honors. Those who graduated cum laude are often said to have graduated “with honors.” The average GPA range to achieve this level of honors is generally between 3.4 and 3.5, according to the University of Notre Dame.
Next up is magna cum laude, which translates to “with great praise.” This is the middle tier of high honors and falls just below the highest honors. Graduates that are magna cum laude have a GPA between 3.6 and 3.7, according to the Notre Dame standard.
The highest level of academic honors is summa cum laude, or “with highest honor.” This distinction is reserved only for those who managed to have top grades at their graduating institution. The Notre Dame standard puts the GPA range at a 3.8 or higher.
Many institutions vary in their ranges, however; some schools even vary between majors or colleges, depending on the average GPAs of graduates. Those who graduate with honors or high honors often receive special recognition during the graduation ceremony and can wear a colored cord to indicate their elevated status.