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Difference between summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and "with highest distinction"

Notes by Donald K. Burleson


Question:  My friend just graduated "with highest distinction," while another friend graduated from another University as "summa cum laude."  Which is higher, Magna, Summa, or "with highest distinction?"

Answer:  In Latin, "cum laude" means "with distinction," and different colleges use different standards:

- "with distinction" (cum laude, literally "with honor") is often the top 5% of GPA within the graduating class.

- "with high distinction" (magna cum laude, literally "with high honor"), is reserved for students with a GPA between the top 5% and 3%.

- "with highest distinction" (summa cum laude, literally "with highest honor") is often the top 3% of the graduating class, usually a GPA above 3.9, depending on the grade inflation at the school.

Universities may call it different names, but the three steps of "cum laude" remain a universal standard for achievement in colleges and universities across the globe.




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