What is Class Rank?

Find out how important class rank is for college admissions.

High school students headed to college know about the basic standards for getting in: grades and test scores. But there are other factors that college admissions boards may look at, like class rank.

Although class rank is mentioned during the quest for college admissions, many may not know exactly what it is and how it serves as a factor. In a nutshell, class rank is a way for high schools to compare students’ academic achievements.

Definition of Class Rank

According to the College Board, “Class ranking is a mathematical summary of a student’s academic record as compared with other students in her class.”

At most high schools that use class rank, student rankings take into account not only the grade received in a course, but also the level of difficulty, i. e. AP courses, honors classes, and college-preparation, may all rank differently. Schools usually combine both the course level and the grade earned to calculate the grade point average (GPA). This GPA is then compared to those of other students, with the highest GPA’s ranking among top of the class.

Importance of Class Rank

In recent years, the importance of class rank has come under fire. Although it was once considered an important factor for college admissions, many high schools have discontinued the class ranking process. In fact, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 40 percent of high schools across the nation have kicked class rank off transcripts or simply don’t provide it to colleges at all.

According to opponents of class ranking, the system may squeeze out high performing students from the top ten percentage of their class by just a few points, since there is only room for a limited number of students to fit into the top tier. Students have pointed out that class ranking is also unfair because “easier” classes may afford the opportunity to hold a higher GPA than their more difficult AP class-taking peers.

Because class ranking systems may be biased against “borderline” students (those with GPA’s of 3. 5 or higher), many small, private, elite, and challenging high schools have eliminated the class ranking systems. While public schools may still rank students, more and more universities are making it optional for students to report their rank during the college admission process.

High school administrators, parents, and students feel that eliminating class rank forces college admissions officers to consider other factors more closely: such as test scores, personal essays and extracurricular activities.

Colleges and Class Rank

While students and high schools tend to favor an end to class ranking, many colleges find the omission inconvenient. Colleges tend to look at class rank to see how students are likely to measure up with their peers. This is especially true for students that end up on the cusp of college admissions, when class rank can serve as a positive deciding factor.

Whether or Not to Report Class Rank

Because many high schools no longer report class rank, it’s important to make sure that the other elements of your college application are strong, including personal essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities; all of which will help you stand out from the competition.

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