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I am trying to help assess grad school applications this year but have little experience. In most cases I can work out a rough ranking but I find Italian university grades very hard to understand. For example, we have one candidate with

  • Master degree in Information Technology (Date) University of Catania Grade: 1st (Italian grade: 110/110 cum laude)
  • Bachelor degree in Information Technology (Date) University of Catania Grade: 2.1 (Italian grade: 110/110)

Does this rank the student as being the top of their year or do many people get 100% in an Italian university?

  • My Spanish university has statistics for each year. They are not posted anywhere, but you can ask for them. You could try emailing some officials at Catania and request it. – Davidmh Feb 15 '15 at 12:11
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    Good question, I had the same the first times I had Italian records with this kind of info. As I never saw an Italian file citing less than the maximal grade cum laude, I ended up considering it pretty useless; but it was post-PhD evaluation, so I had other, more relevant (to the positions) pieces of info to work with. – Benoît Kloeckner Feb 16 '15 at 14:23
  • @Benoit Kloeckner apparently you never considered that just the best Italian students pursue a PhD abd/or are likely to be accepted. The mark summa cum laude might be regarded as useless, It Is not my point, but at my time, in my discipline, and university it was awarded to less than 10% of the students. – Alchimista Nov 26 '19 at 7:47
  • @Alchimista: I do understand that PhD applicants and doctors are not representative, but the overall maximal grade is never reached by anyone in France, so that grade can give some information about applicants to extremely selective positions (with much caution though). – Benoît Kloeckner Nov 26 '19 at 11:11
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Does this rank the student as being the top of their year or do many people get 100% in an Italian university?

110/110 cum laude is the maximum obtainable result for a graduation in Italy. To achieve this result a student should pass most of the exams with a grade equivalent to that of US A/A+ and produce a very good dissertation. Take into account that in Italy, typically, exams are not graded on a curve.

More specifically, exam pass grades in Italy range from 18 to 30. To have the possibility to get a final grade of 110/110, a student should typically average about 28 or more along the 3 years of the BsC degree or along the 2 years of the MsC degree.

However, the relative number of students who achieve this result can depend on the field and can vary between universities (this is a major source of problems when comparing grades). Unfortunately statistical data about grades are not easily found on universities web sites (e.g. I couldn't find these data for my university). Maybe the consortium Alma Laurea might provide general statistical information.


Edit I: I've found some statistical data: this pdf file from Alma Laurea contains a report on the 2013 graduates (unfortunately, it is in Italian only). On p. 120 there is a graph which shows grade classes vs field. For the engineering field (ingegneria), 16% of the students achieved the maximum result of 110/110 cum laude.


Edit II: As Aubrey noted in his answer, the Alma Laurea web site contains also a searchable database of graduates' profiles. For example, for the year 2013, for the Department of Electric, Electronic and Computer Engineering (Information Technology probably belongs to that Department) at the University of Catania, the database reports these data. The average grade for the MsC degree is 107.5/110 (110/110 cum laude is considered as 113/110 for the calculation of the average).

For comparison, and to show that there can be a large spread on the averages, for the same year and the same kind of Department, graduates from the Politecnico di Torino (my university) have an average grade of 99.6/110 and those from the University of Rome an average grade of 101.8.


Edit III: Last but not least, students can ask to their universities the so called Diploma Supplement, a document which should help the international recognition of the qualifications. This document provides information on the Italian grading system and reports the corresponding student's grades in the ECTS grading scale. So, in case of doubts, better ask foreigner students to attach this document to the application documentation.

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    If you include this link here(also in English), then your answer is perfect :-) – Aubrey Feb 15 '15 at 16:10
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    Another useful bit of information to better put these percentages into context is that Italy has significantly fewer graduates than the European average. – Federico Poloni Feb 15 '15 at 18:46
  • @FedericoPoloni How should one use this observation for deciding whether to accept someone to grad school? – Lembik Feb 15 '15 at 20:54
  • @Lembik Not directly for the grad school maybe, but it can help framing the significance of that percentage. Being in the top 5% of a population of 20% of the students of a certain age that get a degree is more difficult than being in the top 5% of 50%. (I agree, this is oversimplifying and there are lots of other factors in play). – Federico Poloni Feb 15 '15 at 21:05
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    @Lembik I agree -- that's why I warned that I was oversimplifying. Drop-out rates for Italy are above average, though, and this seems to support my hypothesis (although that could still be a flawed indicator). – Federico Poloni Feb 15 '15 at 22:06
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It seems to me that without having specific information (for example, the year of graduation), it is impossible to give you a proper answer.

110/110 cum laude means that it is top of the class (it's the maximum possible result), but if we knew the year we could search the percentage of students who got the same result in that class. In the end: the results are really good, but without a bit of research we cannot know exactly how good they are related to others.

Update: you can see some statistics here.

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  • The dates are 2013 and 2011. Can you search for this online somehow? – gradschool Feb 15 '15 at 11:19

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