I know of (at least) two sets of phrases used to indicate a degree awarded with honors:

  • English: With distinction / High distinction / Highest distinction

  • Latin: Cum laude / Magna cum laude / Summa cum laude

These phrases are almost literal translations of each other, but can they be treated as exactly equivalent for academic purposes? Or are there subtle distinctions (no pun intended)?

Suppose an academic received a degree with honors from a school that used one system, and is asked to fill in a form which uses the other system. Should they try to translate, or leave blank as inapplicable?

(I realize there are no universal standards dictating on what criteria such honors should be based, so there is not a lot of meaning conveyed by these phrases anyhow. But the academic does not want to be accused of misrepresenting their credentials.)

  • This is much more a question on translation rather than on academia. – user80161 Sep 26 '17 at 14:10

In general, it's always best to report things as they were received. If you received "highest distinction," right that, not summa cum laude. Let the institution receiving the application handle the translation, unless they explicitly tell you otherwise.

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    In this case, there is an online form whose only available options are the Latin phrases. There is no free-form entry. My only other choice is to leave it blank. Should I do that? – Nate Eldredge Jul 27 '16 at 6:13
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    @NateEldredge I find the idea of that form rather alarming, because my degree, like the whole of the UK, uses a different system entirely. – Jessica B Jul 27 '16 at 6:21
  • @NateEldredge: Presumably, there's an "additional information" section toward the end of the online form? My advice would be to translate it as best you can, then make a note in that section. If that section doesn't exist, email the webmaster and tell them to get their act together. – tonysdg Jul 27 '16 at 14:06
  • @tonysdg: No, there's no such section. It's a form that is supposed to systematically collect all the information from a CV. – Nate Eldredge Jul 27 '16 at 15:22
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    @NateEldredge: In this case, I'd say there wouldn't be an issue doing the conversion yourself. – aeismail Jul 27 '16 at 17:53

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