Why Eliminating Publication of Class Rank is Best for Students
Kingsway plans to eliminate the long-standing method of ranking students based on cumulative GPA. Our research on the factors influencing college acceptance points to an immediate need to end ranking methods at the high school. While the factors used by college admissions officers stress the importance of academic achievement, they focus more on overall high school GPA and not class rank. Despite this, Kingsway’s current system is class rank focused; promoting academic achievement measures that encourage our students to strategically boost class rank. This is in contradiction to factors emphasized by the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), such as overall high school GPA, strength of curriculum, and SAT scores. We believe our current class rank method creates a disadvantage for our students as they compete for admission to their college or university of choice.
As it stands, class rank is a metric used to evaluate how students perform in relation to their peers. However, high schools throughout the country have not standardized the use of grade point scales, class rank procedures, class weighting, etc. Therefore, when a college admissions officer evaluates a student’s academic performance, he/she does so without any guarantee that the measures used are the same from school to school. Moreover, it is widely reported that class rank is not a priority factor for college admissions. In fact, it gives way to the following in admission decisions for first-time freshmen according to the National Association of College Admission Counseling’s 2019 State of College Admission report.
- Grades in all courses/overall high school GPA (75% of colleges)
- Grades in college preparatory courses (English, math, science, history & foreign language) (73% of colleges)
- Strength of curriculum at the applicant’s high school (60% of colleges) as evidence by rigorous course choices
- Admissions test scores (ACT, SAT) (>50% of all colleges)
Another set of moderately important factors used to gain insight into the personal qualities and interests of college-bound students are as follows.
- Writing sample (college essay)
- Demonstrated interest
- Counselor and teacher recommendations
While academic performance remains a top factor for college admission, a student’s cumulative GPA is a more important factor when compared to a GPA that represents only grades in college preparatory courses. Conversely, the NACAC Admission Trends Survey (2018-19) demonstrates that class rank has become much less important over the decade and reports only 9 percent of colleges rated rank as considerably important, compared to 23 percent in 2007. In a recent survey conducted by Kingsway Regional School District, Ramapo College reported, “Only about 40% of high schools even provide a class rank. If rank is not provided we consider other data points to gauge rigor and high school context.” This declining use of class rank throughout high schools only compels college admissions to prioritize academic performance, which is a common trend throughout the survey.
The effort to move away from class rank has hit home as a number of New Jersey Schools are removing the practice, recognizing that the minuscule differences separating top students has rendered ranking useless while driving up student stress.9 Washington Township (Gloucester County) announced they were doing away with the practice for the Class of 2023. Vineland Public Schools will do the same in 2020, and Ocean City High School graduated its first class without the use of rank in 2019. The West Chester Area School District eliminated the practice when it was reported to them by a University of Pennsylvania Admissions Officer that a student ranked 15th out of 320 students “would have gotten in” had she not been ranked, according to a statement released by the school superintendent10 In a phone interview with Garnet Valley School District in Pennsylvania, school officials reported that they are eliminating their class rank practice beginning with the Class of 2020.12 Their decision stems from of a University of Delaware admissions officer who noted that the practice of ranking students from best to worst is disadvantageous for high school graduates, hurting the chances of students’ acceptance, when compared to students from other schools who are not ranked in this manner.
If class rank is not necessary to open doors to colleges and universities and may end up putting students at a disadvantage, the only purpose of ranking is for local comparison. As a select group of students progress through high school, class rank becomes the largest motivator behind their course selection process, exposing a rivalry among students as they vie for the top spot. Throughout the competition to outperform one another, the process of learning, exploring and challenging oneself gives way to calculated efforts to boost rank. Alfie Kohn, author of Beyond Measure, writes: “The vicious rivalry and inevitable resentment on display as a handful of overachievers battle it out over tiny differences in GPA has led some schools to stop ranking… a tiny step in the right direction.”
Lastly, Kingsway surveyed approximately two dozen college admissions officers and found that the elimination of class rank will not affect our students in a negative way, nor will it dissuade a college from accepting the applicant. We best captured the irrelevancy of class rank and the most important factors influencing college admission decisions during a conversation with Rutgers, in which the Director of Campus Programs replied:
“This (elimination of class rank) will not negatively impact your (Kingsway) students. Many schools have eliminated class rank and our primary focus is on overall GPA and the level of courses and grades a student achieves. That combined with standardized test scores and supplemental information (activities, leadership, essay) provide the necessary information for us to review a student for admission to Rutgers.” Melissa Welch, Director of Campus Programs. Rutgers University-New Brunswick
To further illustrate this point, Brown University’s admission advisor reports, “Half our applicants now come from schools that don’t have rank,” while Rutgers University-New Brunswick claims, “Due to the number of high schools who do not rank their students, we have not required class rank from applicants for several years.” The University of Delaware admissions office reported to Kingsway personnel, “It (class rank) is not something we take into consideration for admissions because class rank looks different at all schools. For example, a student may be ranked third in their class, but the highest GPA is a 3.5.”
The following colleges and universities made similar claims during our survey. Temple, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Randolph Macon College, Lafayette College, West Virginia University, Ramapo College, Roger Williams University, Liberty University, Quinnipiac University, Holy Family University, Rowan University, Penn State University, Rider University, and more.
“This (elimination of class rank) will not negatively impact your (Kingsway) students. Many schools have eliminated class rank and our primary focus is on overall GPA and the level of courses and grades a student achieves. That combined with standardized test scores and supplemental information (activities, leadership, essay) provide the necessary information for us to review a student for admission to Rutgers.”
Director of Campus Programs
Rutgers University-New Brunswick