High School Class Rank: Does It Matter?


How much does high school class rank really matter?

The short answer is: a lot, sort of…

More and more schools have started doing away with high school class rank all together. In many cases, school administrators feel that ranking systems make students feel bad, add unnecessary pressure to already stressed students, or don’t accurately depict a student. This decrease makes it easy to cast high school class rank off as an insignificant part of the admissions process.

But you shouldn’t do that. Let me explain.

To start, let’s look at the college admissions process as a whole:

When you submit your college application, it will be added to the virtual piles of thousands of other applications. Different applicants are collected into different pools and first evaluated among those pools before passing on to the general admissions evaluation. Many admissions offices use residency to determine which pool or “region” you will be evaluated within; others use citizenship.

When you submit your college applications, your school counselor will also submit a “school profile,” which provides specific information about the school you attend. This profile will have detailed information about your school—the classes available, number of APs available, how big your class is, etc. Thus, you will be evaluated within the context of your school.

So, once your application is sorted, it will be distributed to a regional admissions officer (or admissions officers) for review. This means that your application will be evaluated against other applications from school and your region. So, if you are applying from Southern California, you will not be competing against applicants from Brazil or perhaps even Northern California. You will be competing against the people who are most like you--your peers.

When the admissions readers sit down and look at the applications, they analyze a number of factors: GPA, test scores, activities and honors, the personal statement for college, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation, course load, and yes, high school class rank. If your school does not have a class ranking system, the admissions officer will look at other factors that demonstrate academic ability.

As Ben Schwartz, the former Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth states, “Admissions offices read applications based on the context of the school. So whichever context, we will look at how the student has taken advantage of the opportunities available.”

How you perform within the context of your school is crucial. Ranking at the top of your class explicitly shows admissions officers that you are among the top academic performers in your class. When evaluating your academic abilities, within the context of your school, rankings make their job easy.

But even if your school doesn’t have class rankings, admissions officers will be analyzing your application components to create their own ranking system. They will be looking at how rigorous your curriculum is in comparison to your classmates, how your GPA compares, and whether or not you took advantage of the resources at your disposal.

So, does high school class rank factor into the college admissions process?


Let’s take a look at the admissions profiles at a couple of the top schools in the United States.

At Princeton, for example, 94.5% of admitted students in the Class of 2020 whose high schools provided class rankings ranked in the top 10%.

At Yale, 95% of students ranked in the top 10%. At Columbia, 90% of students admitted to the  Class of 2020 were in the top 10% of their class.

Of course, high school class rank is not the only determining factor in college admissions decisions. But it is a factor.

Where does high school class rank directly matter?

  1. Automatic Admit Programs like The Texas University system, which automatically admits students in the top 10% of their Texas class. Their admissions offices only look at rank and test scores for in-state applicants.
  2. Scholarships: there are many scholarships available for high achieving students—both for test scores and GPAs. Some of these scholarships require that students achieve or maintain a certain high school class rank.


In conclusion, admissions officers will look at the student’s entire persona, achievements, and contributions in the context of what is possible and available in their community or school. There is no formula or number that will guarantee admission (except in Texas!). But challenging yourself within the context of your school, and excelling, never hurts.

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