What Is an Academic Distinction?

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The two forms of academic distinctions are annual and graduating distinctions. These are based on annual student performance and overall grade point average upon graduation at colleges and universities. Annual distinctions are calculated by the number of credit hours completed versus GPA. Graduating distinctions include Latin designations for high GPA over the entire course of a student’s college or university degree program .

Annual distinctions are announced through the publication of a “Dean’s List” of highest academic achievement. Institutions like the University of Arizona requires students to have a GPA of 3.50 or higher and over 12 units each semester and an annual total of 30 units to make the Dean’s List.

Graduating distinctions include the Latin terms “cum laude,” “magna cum laude” and “summa cum laude.” Students must earn a GPA between 3.50 to 3.69 to be cum laude, 3.70 to 3.89 to be magna cum laude and 3.90 to 4.00 to be summa cum laude. Some universities utilize English versions of Latin honors, including Purdue University. Cum laude means “with honor,” magna cum laude means “with great praise,” and summa cum laude means “with highest praise” in Latin.

The University of Texas explains other academic distinctions and honors include those earned through honors societies in various specialties, university-wide honors programs and departmental honors. Academic honors and distinctions appear on graduates’ diplomas and transcripts.