Cum laude is a phrase used mainly in the United States, though it is found in other countries as well. It is Latin and literally means with praise. It is used by universities and colleges to set some graduates apart as having honors. Magna cum laude is the next level up, meaning something like great honors. Summa cum laude means greatest honors. Each university sets their own distinctions for earning each honor.
Rare honors can include egregia cum laude and maxima cum laude.
The most confusing part of these terms are whether or not they should be italicized. The general rule is to italicize foreign words, which these are. However, we found more than one style guide directing users to leave these words in Roman type. Most users will expect italicized words. If you are writing for a publication with a style guide, this might be something to double-check.
Everyone is in consensus that these phrases should be left lowercase.
She was also an outstanding student and graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in psychology with plans of being an industrial psychologist. [NBA]
A former CEO of Lockheed Martin and Under Secretary of the U.S. Army, he graduated from Princeton magna cum laude, holds 29 honorary degrees and built a distinguished career in aeronautics engineering, advising the nation’s top leaders on everything from space flight to homeland security and serving on the governing boards of many of this nation’s largest and most important corporations and universities. [The Baltimore Sun]
She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University, and then from Yale Law School, where she served on the Yale Law Journal. [Slate]