Summa Cum Laude Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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You may have heard the phrase “summa cum laude” before. It’s a somewhat common phrase, but as with many Latin words that we transfer into the English language, sometimes it can be difficult to know what it really means. 

So, today’s phrase of the day is summa cum laude. By the end of this article, you’ll have a full grasp of what this phrase means, where it came from, and how to use it. Now, let’s get started.

What Is Summa Cum Laude?

Most of the time, you will hear the phrase summa cum laude in an academic context. Most of the time, it will appear alongside a graduate’s name, and it could even be on their diploma. 

Here’s the definition of summa cum laude:

  • The greatest or highest academic distinction; literally means “with the highest honor”

Essentially, summa cum laude is a title or award given to the person who had the highest grade point average (GPA) in their class. Some universities and colleges will only give this award to one specific individual to honor their great achievement. They are also given the class rank of valedictorian. 

Most schools will give the summa cum laude title to a range of graduating students at the top of the class. Many schools give this honor to any student who gets a 3.9 GPA or higher. Some schools give the title to the top 3% of students in the graduating class. 

In any case, this title of highest praise is given to students of a college or high school who have the highest level of academic achievement, and it is a great achievement to add to your resume. 

The phrase can be used as an adverb or an adjective. The adverb could describe how a person graduated, and the adjective could be used to describe a particular bachelor’s degree or diploma. 

A Common Confusion

One of the most common confusions when it comes to the phrase summa cum laude is the closely related phrase “magna cum laude.” Magna cum laude is a phrase that means “with great honor,” and it is given to students who have maintained high academic achievement. 

Many people mix up these two designations. Some incorrectly think that magna cum laude is the highest honor. This is likely because the word “magna” is a common root that is used to describe big things, so it seems like this would be the highest honor. 

However, that is not the case. Summa cum laude is the academic honor given to the highest achieving students, and magna cum laude is given to the next highest achievers. Any form of cum laude distinction is a great honor and signifies that this student performed very well in school. 

There is also another distinction, called “cum laude,” which simply means “with honor.” This is the third rank when it comes to college graduates. It’s given to those who performed very well but not at the top levels. 

Where Did Summa Cum Laude Come From?

Perhaps you can tell from the spelling and pronunciation that the phrase summa cum laude is not from the English language. In fact, this phrase comes from Latin. It combines a few fairly simple Latin terms. It directly translates to “with highest praise.” 

The word laude is the Latin word for “praise.” This is where we get the English verb “laud.” This English word simply means “to praise.” The Latin cum is a simple preposition, meaning “with.”

The word summa is a little more involved. This word means “chief point, sum, high, or total.” This Latin word is where we get the English word “sum,” as in arithmetic. It is also where we get the word “summit.” 

Essentially, this phrase means “ with the summit of praise” or “with the peak of praise.” But the most simple translation to understand is “with highest praise.”

What Are Some Examples of Summa Cum Laude in a Sentence?

Seeing the word or phrase used in a sentence can help us to better understand both what the word means and how to use it. So here are some example sentences that utilize the phrase summa cum laude. 

My brother graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University, so he’s kind of a big deal. 

After being on the dean’s list all throughout college, she graduated summa cum laude. 

She aced her honors thesis, so she graduated summa cum laude from the honors program. 

The summa cum laude honor goes to Michael Smith. 

I didn’t find out she graduated summa cum laude until the graduation ceremony. 

Not only was he the first in his family to receive higher education, but he also was a summa cum laude graduate.

There were only about 5 college students who graduated summa cum laude this year. 

Joseph got his bachelor’s degree with a magna cum laude honor and his master’s degree with a summa cum laude honor. 

Even though I worked as hard as I possibly could, I still didn’t graduate summa cum laude. But at least I got magna cum laude.

What Are Some Synonyms of Summa Cum Laude?

Here are some synonyms for the phrase summa cum laude that you might find in a thesaurus.

  • Highest honor
  • With highest honor
  • With highest praise

The Phrase Summa Cum Laude

Now you know everything you need to know about the phrase summa cum laude. Now you don’t have to be confused when you hear it at a graduation ceremony ever again. Just remember that summa cum laude is the “summit” or highest achievement. 

So, go and use this phrase confidently in your writing or conversation. If you need a refresher on summa cum laude and what it means, just come back to this article for the information you need. 


ACADEMIC HONORS AND AWARDS| The University of Arizona

Latin Honors | William & Mary Law School  

summa cum laude | Audio English