General Education

Your Plan to Get Academic Honors at Graduation

Your Plan to Get Academic Honors at Graduation
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Sam Rubenstein August 27, 2014

As you start your final year of college, you may be wondering how you can get recognized for your accomplishments at school when graduation rolls around.

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As you embark on your final year of college, it’s natural for you to start imaging what graduation will look like.

You may have seen seniors last year wearing all sorts of cords and regalia on their robes, and asked yourself what they meant, and whether you would receive them, too.

The academic honors your receive at graduation boost the value of your college degree. As you approach the end of your college days, you should be aware of the different types of academic honors available to you. Here’s a guide to some of the most popular acknowledgments and how you can receive them:

Latin Honors

These are Latin phrases you may be familiar with, and given based on your grade point average. Each school decides what values qualify students for their Latin honors. The three tiers are

  1. Summa Cum Laude
  2. Magna Cum Laude
  3. Cum Laude

Some schools may award latin honors based on GPA ranges. While the cumulative GPA requirements vary from school to school, Summa Cum Laude is usually from 3.75< to 3.9, Magna Cum Laude ranges from 3.6 - 3.8 and Cum Laude ranges from 3.5 - 3.7.

Other schools award latin honors depending on your class ranking, usually awarding the top 5 percent of the class with Summa Cum Laude honors, the next 10 percent of the class with Magna Cum Laude, and the ten percent after that with Cum Laude honors.

Finally, some schools will base Latin honors on faculty recommendations and factors such as rigor of the courses and mastery displayed.

No matter what specific requirements you school or major has for rewarding students with latin honors, this recognition will look great on your resume and demonstrate to employers that you were an elite student at your college.

Honors Societies

Learning is a lifelong endeavor, so honors societies, which you can become a member of, were established to support learning after college.

Phi Beta Kappa is perhaps the most well-known and elite honors society, which keeps its members connected for the rest of their lives. To join Phi Beta Kappa, you must display excellence in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, and one college graduate in a hundred is invited.

There are plenty of other honors societies, such as Phi Kappa Phi, which is more expansive and inclusive, but not quite the resume booster. Delta Epsilon Iota rewards academics with a focus on career development, Tau Beta Pi for engineering, Mu Phi Epsilon for music. The list continues.

Departmental and School Specific Honors

Schools will have honors designated by department, for example the English department will have an award, the biology department, and so on. They may be named after important graduates of the college or named after a donor. Some examples from a cross section of colleges include:

From Smith College’s American Studies Program, the Eleanor Flexner Prize, awarded for the best piece of work by a Smith undergraduate using the Sophia Smith Collection or the Smith College Archives.

UPENN offers College House Deans Integrated Knowledge Awards.

Lynchburg College awards The Rex Mix Award in Communication Studies, the Esther Cutler Thomas Outstanding Student in Speech Communication Award, The Woody Greenberg Award in Public Relations/Journalism.

These are just some examples; your college likely has its own version of these awards. Check out your department’s website or speak to your departmental advisor if you think you may be eligible for an award. How to achieve these honors?

  • Know your school’s policies for honors: What GPA do you need for Summa Cum Laude vs. Magna Cum Laude? Remember, some colleges will look at what you have learned and produced while others may focus more on your bottom line GPA.

  • Research national honors societies: Find the ones that connect directly to your major and find out what you need to do to apply or to receive an invitation.

  • Research the awards your school offers: Are there famous alumni? Is there a well regarded major at your school? The school website will have an awards section where you can find a list of the awards and the requirements in various disciplines. Once you find them, you have a goal you can approach.

  • Know your curriculum: College professors will lay out exactly what they expect from you, how you will be graded, and other opportunities you have for academic advancement. Read the curriculum or syllabus closely.

  • Go to office hours: The time you spend one on one with your professor will enhance your profile in her eyes. It makes the professor look better if her students are thriving, so she will be thrilled to know you are pursuing honors.

  • Connect with peers: Connecting with other academically driven students can allow you to help each other through challenges and get their advice.

  • Mastery of material is the key: Since you are now studying a field that you are passionate about or that you feel will launch your career, you should be fully committed to your major. To achieve honors you must outperform others, and that comes through full immersion.


About Us. (n.d.), Phi Beta Kappa

Durso-Finley, J., & Burks Becker, H. (2012, September 6). Tip Sheet | How to Succeed in College. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from The New York Times

Jennings, N., Lovett, S., Cuba, L., Swingle, J., & Lindkvist, H. (2013, March 1). "What Would Make This a Successful Year for You?" How Students Define Success in College. Retrieved August 27, 2014.


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