The GPA needed to wear graduation cords depends on the type of cord and the requirements at each school. Some are issued regardless of academic scores and represent some other distinguishment, such as graduating from the business college within that university’s system or belonging to a group (e.g., kente honor cords for Black Student Union members). At some schools, cords may be worn to highlight military service.
For honor cords, there are more strict requirements, usually issued in three tiers with their own GPA requirements and cord color. While those requirements will vary from school to school, as will their colors, most schools will set them using the same overall structure.
Generally, a student with a cumulative GPA of around 3.5 is considered to graduate with honors or Cum laude. A variably higher GPA is required to graduate Magna cum laude, and depending on the school, a near 4.0 GPA or above is required for Summa cum laude graduates.
For example, the University of Alaska, Fairbanks requires GPAs of 3.5 for Cum laude, 3.75 for Magna cum laude, and 3.9 (with no grades below A-) for Summa cum laude. At the University of Montana, the same respective honors require GPAs of 3.4, 3.7, and 3.9.
Instead of or in addition to GPAs, some schools use percentiles, faculty recommendations, or some combination of those factors to determine honors requirements. At Northwestern University for instance, honors are reserved for the top 25 percent of spring quarter graduates, Summa cum laude being the top 5%, Magna cum laude the next 8%, and Cum laude the remaining 12%. The GPAs of those spring graduates are then used as unpublicized cutoffs for honors graduates over the next three quarters.