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Latin Honors

Graduating seniors from most colleges and universities are eligible to be awarded Latin Honors. These are typically “cum laude,” “magna cum laude,” and “summa cum laude,” with increasing excellence recognized over the three categories.

Typically, these honors are determined by attainment of a certain level of performance demonstrated by grades received on credit-bearing courses. Some schools have designated these honors by identifying certain attained grade point averages (GPAs); others by percentiles of the GPA distribution among seniors.

For some decades, Georgetown designated three GPA cutoffs to qualify for the three honor distinctions. This was changed in 2017 because of problems that had arisen over time. First, grade inflation had increased the proportion of the graduates given Latin Honors, diluting the significance of the honor designation. Second, it became obvious that grading standards varied over the different schools offering undergraduate degrees, threatening the value of having the same honor criteria for all schools.

To correct these imbalances, the Latin Honor criteria were changed to the highest 5% of GPAs for summa cum laude, those from 5.001- 15% for magna cum laude, and those from 15.001-25% for cum laude. This was computed separately within schools offering bachelor’s degrees. At the time, the Registrar doubted the office’s ability to compute these percentages each year from live data in a timely manner needed to print diplomas. For that reason, the Latin Honor rules were based on the prior year cutoffs. That is, the 2018 summa, magna, and cum laude honors were based on the 5%, 15%, and 25% lowest cumulative GPAs for the 2017 graduating class. If the lowest 5% of 2017 graduates had a 3.900 GPA or higher, then a 2018 graduate with a 3.900 or higher would receive a summa cum laude designation.

After the pandemic forced major changes in instructional delivery in March, 2020, Georgetown greatly liberalized the Pass/Fail Option allowing students the freedom to take multiple non-elective courses as Pass/Fail during the semester rather than as a letter grade. Such courses are removed from the cumulative GPA calculation of the students who choose the option.

The effect on achieved cumulative GPAs was quite positive, averaging between +0.20 and +0.25. The cumulative GPAs of Georgetown undergraduates increased during the liberalized pass/fail option. Because of the one-year lag of the thresholds, this advantaged some graduates in the classes of 2020-2022 in achieving Latin Honors. However, as the number of semesters each class enjoyed the inflation of GPAs from pass/fail varied, the effects of the one-year lag of the thresholds themselves changed.

Given these effects, the Registrar Office has developed an approach to conduct real time computation of the top 5%, top 15%, and top 25% of graduates based on the data from their own graduating class. As before, these computations will be made within each school offering undergraduate degrees. This will repair the harmful effects of comparing one graduating class with fewer semesters of pass-fail liberation to one with more. Hence, Latin Honors can be based on the shared experiences of a single graduating class.

We intend to implement this new practice for the 2024 graduating class.

2 thoughts on “Latin Honors

  1. Why are Latin honors based solely on GPA? Why are the existence and quality of honors theses in the major not taken into account in awarding Latin honors?

  2. Good to review. FYI. Grade inflation ?. Oh my ! When I graduated I’m 1968 as a premed I got into Med school with a 3.444444444444444444444444444 ad infinitude yup. And back then. CUM LAUDE WAS A WHOPPING 3.45 yup still got into Med school. A number of years ago was telling gu premeds “ 3.5 good for Med school” well someone told me NO BILL. Try 3.7_3.8. Yup LOTS OF GRADE INFLATION keep reviewing thanks

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Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

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