During a recent trip to my hometown, I reconnected with some old schoolmates. As we were recounting our high school days, someone mentioned our class valedictorian, which evolved into a discussion on class rank, and none of us could recall where we stood in the pecking order. It was not something that I remember reviewing with my guidance counselors or factoring into my ability to get into the college of my choice.
This led me to think about the role that class rank plays today in the college application process. Although class rank was an important measure of success several years ago, there’s a movement to lessen its significance that has been gaining momentum across the country. Many schools in the U.S. have stopped numbering students from valedictorian on down and more than half of all high schools no longer publish class rank.
In light of the current competitive culture that exists for a student to get into the college of their choice, I personally agree with this shift, which is being echoed by college admissions professionals.
A 2017 National Association for College Admission Counseling report showed that admissions counselors considered grades in college preparatory courses to be the most important factor when deciding which students to accept. But because these courses tend to be more difficult, students who strive for a top class rank spot may shy away from taking them, which can be detrimental in the long run when they take significantly harder college classes.
In fact, a recent survey of students at Guilderland High School in Albany County, New York, proved this point by revealing that 79 percent of students said they would be more comfortable taking challenging courses in high school if colleges would never see their rank. It’s important that students don’t become so consumed with class rank that they opt out of taking classes that challenge them.
In addition, an emphasis on class rank status can also be inaccurate and short change some students, as different schools configure it differently, with some basing it on unweighted GPA and others on a weighted GPA — giving extra points for more challenging courses.
While class rank may still hold significance in assessing which students should be awarded academic scholarships, colleges have been phasing out its importance and using other methods in their selection processes. Those that used to rely on class rank are leveraging SAT scores along with GPA to evaluate students. Others are adopting a more holistic approach that places an emphasis on personal statements and essays, teacher and counselor recommendations, leadership experience, and the individual talents of applicants.
In my personal experience with my daughter, a junior in high school, we are working toward a well-rounded college resume and high school experience that includes focusing on an increasingly harder course load and taking on club leadership roles and participating in community service activities.
Striving to be at the top of the class is an admirable goal, but the most important thing is that our students are held to high standards and that our schools are measuring their growth accurately, paving the way for their future success in college and beyond.