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Fewer Schools are Using Class Rank for College Admissions

Class rank is now a less significant factor in college admissions.

Data from US News found that among the nearly 1,400 ranked colleges only about 37% considered class rank “very important” or “important” in their admissions process.

“Class rank has been a norm for so many years,” says James Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars, an academic honor society. “It’s something that has been tried and tested. But the trend is moving away from that and looking at the individual strengths of a candidate for admissions.”


Class rank is essentially how your academic achievements measure up to other students in your class.

“Your class rank is determined by comparing your GPA to the GPA of people in the same grade as you,” Christine Sarikas, of PrepScholar, explains. “So, if you are a junior and your high school has 500 juniors, each of them will receive a number, 1-500, with the person who has the highest GPA ranked #1. If there are 500 people in your class and your class rank is 235, then 234 of your classmates have a higher GPA than you, 265 classmates have a lower GPA than you, and you are in the top half of your class.”

For college admissions, high schools typically report class rank on students’ report cards, which are submitted to colleges during admissions season.

“Some schools also report what percentile students are in their class, based on their ranking number and the total number of students in the class,” Sarah Wood, a reporter at US News, says. “The two highest-ranked students are generally given the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian.”


In recent years, fewer high schools have used class rank for recognizing academic achievement.

“The concepts of rank aren’t inherently bad, but I think that it no longer serves the purpose that it did,” Steve Schneider, a school counselor at South High School in Wisconsin, says. “I think it’s an antiquated way of recognizing strong students.”

Some schools have ditched class rank and, in turn, started to implement the cum laude system, which groups students based on their GPA instead of giving an individual ranking.

“It enables us to acknowledge that we do have students that do exceptional work in the classroom. But it’s not that anyone is ‘better than another’ or did more work than another or performed that much better than another,” Schnieder says. “It takes away some of that strange, unhealthy dynamic” of kids discussing rankings.”

At Haddam-Killingworth High School in Connecticut, school officials are implementing a grouping model which divides categories by every 0.25 quality points and shows a student’s relative placement within a class without assigning a strict number.

“The bar graph will actually change every year based on the GPA distribution of that graduating class,” Donna Hayward, principal of Haddam-Killingworth High School, says. “And then the student could see where they lie in relation to their peers in that particular graduating class. But that way, if they fluctuate one or two places in what would be a traditional class rank, up or down, their bar placement doesn’t change. It’s less sensitive to one grade being a little lower or higher.”

Sources: US News, PrepScholar

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