HomeArticlesThe Value of Class Rank in Undergraduate Admissions

Dear Estelle. I go to a highly selective private high school that doesn’t rank its students. It’s a difficult academic climate and requires extensive study, research papers, athletic participation by most students, and community service. Our parents pay a lot of money to send us here and there are also several students in each grade on scholarships. My education seems exceptional compared to friends at the public high schools and I’m quite proud of the effort I make to excel. My main concern as I become a senior and start planning the college process is that we are not ranked. How do colleges deal with this?
JWM, Cherry Hills

What an excellent question which just happens to coincide with a brief I recently received from NACAC, one of the national organizations to which I belong. In the brief 23% of colleges attach considerable importance to class rank as a factor in evaluating applications for admission. Class rank falls far below the top academic factors—grades in college prep courses, strength of curriculum, test scores and grades in all courses—-that colleges consider in the admissions decision.

It appears that public colleges place a greater emphasis on class rank than smaller, private institutions. Highly selective colleges with lower acceptance rates appear to place slightly more importance on class rank, too. This is especially true because colleges need to draw distinctions between similarly qualified students. Some schools use class rank to draw a line between admitted and non-admitted students to ensure that students will be able to do the required coursework.

According to the brief, the importance of class rank has declined in the past 15 years. Conversely, the importance of standardized tests has increased significantly during that period. Apparently, the increase in the numbers of applications has resulted in a need to compare students from diverse populations rather than comparing students from the same high school. Also grading systems vary from school to school and state to state. Standardized test scores provide a good method to compare students. Remember, though, there are many colleges that don’t require SATs or ACTs.

Several states utilize class rank to determine admissibility to their universities. These are Texas (Top 10 %), Florida (Talented 20); and California (Top 4%). Of colleges that provided merit-based institutional aid in 2005, 50% included class rank as one of the factors determining eligibility.

To return to your original question, it is unlikely that class rank will be too important in your college applications. Maintaining quality grades, performing well on standardized tests, and completing an exceptional college application will be important factors for you. Your school sends in a secondary school report with your application, which shows the type of students who attend your school and how many attend college. Your school’s reputation is likely well known to colleges around the country.

So, begin your college applications, work on your essay and read some books this summer.      

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