High School Class Rank: Does It Matter?
July 17, 2020
High School Class Rank: How Much Does it Really Matter?
As you prepare to apply to college, you have to maintain excellence in both your academics and your extracurriculars. One part of your academic achievements includes your high school class rank. Admissions officers want to see how you’ve fared in comparison to the rest of the students in your grade. So, how much does high school class rank really matter? The short answer is: a lot, sort of.
More and more high schools have started doing away with a ranking system 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. In this blog, we’ve gone more in depth into what high school class rank really means, why it’s important in the grander scheme of the application process, and areas in which it directly factors into your admissions decision.
What is High School Class Rank and How is it Measured?
High school class rank is a method of determining how students from each grade measure and compare to each other in terms of grades and academic achievements. Your ranking is calculated by comparing your GPA to your classmates’ in the same grade. Typically, class rank is reevaluated each semester/trimester as new grades are added to your transcript.
Admissions officers often tell prospective students to challenge themselves with the most difficult courses available to them as this matters significantly in college admissions. This is because your ranking may be weighted or unweighted. Unweighted GPA, measured on a 4.0 scale, does not take course difficulty into account, while weighted GPA, calculated on a 5.0 scale does. So, if you choose to take honors, AP, or IB classes your weighted class rank will be higher than your unweighted one — yes, even if you didn't get all A’s. Simply put, getting all A’s taking the easiest classes available is not more impressive than getting slightly lower grades taking more challenging classes. You must consider this as you choose your courses.
High School Class Rank in Context of the Admissions Process
When you submit your college application, it will be added to the virtual piles of thousands of other applications. Most admissions offices use residency to determine which pool or “region” you will be evaluated within; others, like MIT and Caltech, 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, admissions officers will have context to better evaluate you.
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 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.
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. For example, if five students from the same high school are all applying to Columbia ED, class rankings make it easy for the one admissions officer assigned to reading all five of these applications to tell which student is the strongest.
But even if your school doesn’t have class rankings, admissions officers will analyze 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.
High School Class Rank at Top Colleges
High school class rank absolutely matters if you’re vying for a top-ranked college. Let’s take a look at the admissions profiles at a couple of the top schools in the United States.
- At Yale, 92% of the Class of 2023 ranked in the top 10%.
- At Columbia, 95% of students admitted to the Class of 2023 were in the top 10% of their class.
- At Cornell, 83.4% of the students admitted to Class of 2023 ranked in the top 10% of their class while 95.5% were within the top 25%
Of course, high school class rank is not the only determining factor in college admissions decisions. But it is definitely a factor. Schools, especially at the highest level, are looking for the most talented, intellectually curious, and strong performing students.
Where Does High School Class Rank Directly Matter?
- Automatic Admit Programs: Many schools offer admissions advantages to students with impressive high school class ranks. At UT Austin for example, Texas students who graduate in the top 6% of their high school class earn automatic admission to the school. Similarly in the case of University of California schools, if you're in the top 9% of California high school graduates and aren't admitted to any of the UC campuses you apply to, you'll be offered a spot at another campus if space is available.
- 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, is important If you have a strong high school rank, you have a better chance of getting into top ranked colleges. Good luck!