Is it fair to compare a valedictorian of a class of 400 to a valedictorian of a class of 40?
Probably not. And it’s not just because of class size. Just because two students have the same class rank doesn’t mean that they are equally prepared for college.
Class rank is inherently imbalanced, but those numbers do have some value in college admissions. To understand what class rank does mean, you must first understand what it doesn’t mean.
If you don’t have a certain class rank, you won’t get into college.
You’ve heard of automatic admission into colleges for valedictorians, salutatorians, or everyone in the top “Xth” percentile of class rank. It’s true that one way you can sometimes secure college admission is by earning very high honors from your high school.
It’s not the only way, though. Most people apply to college on the strength of their GPA, class rank, standardized test scores, and recommendation letters altogether.
This holistic portrait of a student’s academics paints a much more accurate picture of the applicant than class rank alone.
Listen up: You can go to college with a less than stellar class rank.
Some colleges don’t consider rankings when reviewing applications. Only about half of U.S. high schools even give class rankings, so it isn’t exactly a mandatory data point anymore.
Obviously, students should perform as well as they possibly can in high school to give themselves the best advantage during the college application process and be as prepared as possible for college courses.
But they should also remember that a top class rank probably won’t make or break their application to most colleges.
If you don’t have a certain class rank, you won’t get any good scholarships.
This myth is patently false since there are scholarships for being red-headed and left-handed, which clearly don’t have anything to do with class rank.
Here are the facts that get blown out of proportion. Many colleges give merit-based scholarships to the top 5th or 10th percentile of class rank. Many also give merit-based scholarships to students with certain GPAs or standardized test scores.
There are at least a zillion sources of scholarships that look at factors others than class rank.
Maybe not an entire zillion.
But colleges also give scholarships that don’t have anything to do with class rank. Organizations and companies give scholarships.
The internet is full of testimonials of college students who paid nothing for their tuition because of securing scholarships and financial aid packages. Most of those stories aren’t founded on their being salutatorian of their gigantic high school. Instead, they are usually good students with equally good test scores and activities.
Again, a higher class rank can smooth some aspects of the scholarship search—just as it can make a few college applications somewhat easier. Yet class rank isn’t the end-all-be-all of scholarships, grants, and awards.
Focusing too much on getting or not getting the ideal class rank can take up time and attention that you could be spending on a constructive scholarship search.
Class rank means the same thing no matter your high school.
This myth is the basis of most misconceptions about class rank.
Being a valedictorian at one school does not equal valedictorian at another school.
With differences in course rigor and student populations, there are just too many variables to make comparisons between schools, much less between individuals.
This is why colleges understand class rank holistically.
- Were you recognized by your high school? Great work!
- Did you take rigorous courses? Nice!
- Have you performed well in your classes? Well done!
See, colleges aren’t looking for a specific rank. They just want to see that students are challenging themselves with rigorous courses, doing well in them, and earning recognition from their schools.
It’s not about the rank. It’s about the overall picture of academic performance. Someone whose class rank is the 9th percentile at a gigantic school might actually be equivalent in GPA to someone whose ranking is 25th percentile at a tiny school. Or vice versa.
Colleges look for students who bloomed where they were planted, but they also look at the soil.
If you have questions about how class rank is valued by colleges, contact a school counselor, a college admissions advisor, or a KD Director.