Honoris causa is a Latin phrase meaning "for honor's sake" or "for reasons of honor.". When used in conjunction with the name of a university degree, it signifies that the degree was honorary, not earned. In fact, American universities rarely use the Latin term, using "Hon." or "Honorary" to denote a degree given honoris causa.

The qualifications for a degree honoris causa differ from university to university. Generally, though, a trustee must show that a particular candidate (often an alumnus of the university) has made substantial contributions to humanity (though substantial contributions to the university's endowment may suffice). Also, universities often give honorary degrees to Commencement speakers regardless of their other qualifications. Some degrees (Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Humane Letters, etc.) are almost always given honoris causa; others (MD, JD) almost never are.

Degrees honoris causa rarely if ever confer special privileges upon the recipient. An honorary PhD, for example, would not qualify you for a job that required a PhD. Along the same lines, recipients of honorary doctorates are not called "Doctor," and some universities (such as Harvard) even have special graduation regalia that distinguishes honorary doctors from those who actually earned the degree.