Your parents will be beaming at your graduation ceremony when they see you walk across stage wearing honors regalia with your graduation gown. Graduation honors denote academic achievement beyond completion of the basic requirements for earning a college degree. Before commencement, school administration and faculty select students deserving special recognition for outstanding grades, leadership and other exemplary qualities. Graduating with honors is a big deal because it reflects your work ethic and intelligence. Being an honor student can impress prospective employers and graduate school admissions committees more than an average GPA.
Graduating vs. Graduating With Honors
Graduating means you met all the school’s requirements for general education and a major area of concentration and will receive a college diploma. That is a special accomplishment considering only 36 percent of the U.S. population holds a four-year college degree. Students in the upper percentile of their class – as delineated by each school – graduate with honors. Each school establishes criteria for choosing and awarding honors. Graduating with honors typically means the student received Latin honors like cum laude. Latin honors are nationally recognized symbols of undergraduate excellence.
Latin honors identify the cream of the crop of the graduating class. Minimum requirements are generally 3.4 GPA for cum laude, 3.6 GPA for magna cum laude and 3.8 GPA for summa cum laude, but it varies by school. Translated, the Latin words mean the student is graduating with high praise, great praise or highest praise. Colleges only award this distinction to a small percentage of the graduating class. The highly coveted Latin honors usually show up on the students’ diplomas and transcripts compared to other types of honors and recognitions. Some schools confer a distinctive Honors Scholar diploma.
Students favored by faculty may get department honors in their major area of concentration. Each semester, academic departments review graduating seniors and choose those most deserving of “highest honors,” “high honors” or “honors” based on GPA in their major and other qualities that come esteemed in that discipline. If academically qualified, these students may also get recommendations from faculty for Latin honors. It is not uncommon for distinguished graduates to receive both Latin and English honors. For instance, a high achiever’s transcript may have the notation, “Magna Cum Laude with Highest Honors.”
On graduation day, many student groups, clubs and professional organizations award high performing members in good standing with colorful regalia that sets them apart from other students walking in commencement. For example, many schools have chapters of national honor societies, such as Phi Kappa Phi and the international Golden Key Honour Society. In addition, fraternities and sororities have honor societies. Being affiliated with an honor society looks good on a resume and may help you network when looking for a job.
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.