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What does "top 10% of graduating class" really mean?

SlitheyToveSlitheyTove Registered User Posts: 6,338 Senior Member
edited April 2010 in Parents Forum
Looking at Common Data Sets and college profiles, I see lots of schools with ever-higher percentages of matriculating students who were in their high schools' top 10%. Some colleges now mention how many students were in the top 5%. At the same time, there are small, highly-regarded high schools that regularly place far more than 10% of their graduating seniors into tippy-top universities and colleges. Some top colleges also recompute applicant's GPAs using the college's criteria. Perhaps they only use academic core courses, or they remove all AP/IB/Honors weighting, or they don't account for plusses and minuses. Yet class rank was set using the GPA calculated by the high school. If the high school used the college's scheme, maybe a kid who fell outside the top 10% would move up in the ranking, or a kid who ranked high would see class rank plummet. For that matter, given all the different ways that high schools compute GPA, "top 10%" could mean very different things in different districts. The "most rigorous courseload" is supposed to help give some context, but that doesn't really say much about how many students in the top decile are doing the most rigorous thing, and how many are taking an easy schedule.

So what does it really mean when a college says that XX% of its freshman class was in the top 10% of their high school graduating classes?

I suppose that the meaning of "GPA" is also squishy, except for a 4.0 (or 0.0, for that matter. Now I'm thinking of John Belushi in Animal House, with pencils hanging out of his nostrils).
Post edited by SlitheyTove on

Replies to: What does "top 10% of graduating class" really mean?

  • DebbieS7DebbieS7 Registered User Posts: 77 Junior Member
    I've pretty much come to the conclusion that the data about GPA and class ranking the colleges put out there is not very meaningful.In other words, you can't look at any individual college (or for that matter, HS) and compare to any other school with any sense that you are comparing the same data set. It's very frustrating.

    The GCs at my son's school told us last night that colleges are competing with each other and are always looking for ways to make their stats look better.

    SAT/ACT scores seem to me to be the one thing that you can compare across colleges and high schools.
  • sm74sm74 Registered User Posts: 744 Member
    Totally meaningless. Most private schools don't rank kids which is why if you follow the asterix many top colleges report that fewer than 50% of the kids accepted are included in the ranking data--in other words more than 50% of our kids come from private schools. My guess is that many top ranked private schools had similar results to ours and the majority of kids accepted to the harvards and yales were NOT in the top 10% of the class.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Registered User Posts: 15,443 Senior Member
    In my opinion, not much anymore. There are so many variations in schools in calculating GPA, so many variations in what is included or not included in said calculation. I'm not even sure our school gives that info anymore and they have some fancy formula that includes rigor of classes, GPA and ACT scores for calculating the "senior scholars." Those students are supposedly "the top 10%" but the calculations aren't even done until halfway through the senior year and after most if not all of othe college apps are done.
  • LIMOMOF2LIMOMOF2 Registered User Posts: 3,698 Senior Member
    sm74 - many public schools don't rank either. The public school I attended didn't rank, and neither does my D's public high school.
  • hyeonjleehyeonjlee Registered User Posts: 899 Member
    S1's public magnet school did not rank. It's a school ranked within national top 5 among public schools. They did not want to penalize Johnny by showing him to be top 50 % when he easily could have been top 1% in other schools. (it's a school with 60+ kids where 10+ are heading out to Ivies and another 10-15 or so end up with Top 20, non ivies).

    S2's suburban public high school in a very prosperous NE region decided NOT to rank from this year on, for the similar reason.

    So, the picture emerging is, many of the high performing schools, both private and public, don't report ranking, while more weaker HSs try to "help" their stars by providing ranks.

    As such, in my opinion, the published report on % of the top 10% HS ranking students for colleges showing up on first few pages of USNWR report) are GROSSLY INFLATED, perhaps with the exception of top 10 schools or so - they would have gotten top, top, top students even from top, top, top high schools anyway.
  • hmom5hmom5 - Posts: 10,882 Senior Member
    If the high school ranks, and the kid in not in the top 10%, it's a problem at schools where most are.

    Most private schools and many top publics don't rank. That does give the college more leeway although most will approximate a rank for each candidate. But it's also a mistake to look at Andover or Brearley and think that because the top 30% go to ivies it's the top 30%. These schools have many hooked kids, and those who are unhooked getting into tipy top colleges are generally in the top 10%.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,073 Senior Member
    ^ Yes, that's true. But it's also the case that someone in the middle of the class at Andover or Brearley has a good chance to be going to an almost-tippy-top college, even without hooks, whereas someone in the middle of the class at my kids' rank-everything public high school has a good chance to be going to West Chester State. The girls from the bottom half of their class at Brearley who wind up at Middlebury or Tufts aren't included in the denominator of their colleges' top-10% figures.
  • hmom5hmom5 - Posts: 10,882 Senior Member
    ^Agree. That really is the difference, everyone needs to be top of class for the very top colleges but most of the kids who attend a top high school will attend a T30 college.
  • hyeonjleehyeonjlee Registered User Posts: 899 Member
    so, it makes even more sense for the top public magnet schools not to rank, since they don't have many hooked kids - like legacy, mega doners, URM - many minority kids, but WRONG (ORM) sorts like Asians. My S1's small magnet school did not have any athletic programs either: kids who are interested in sports have to jump through the hoops by coming up with an elaborate scheme to beg to be included in a home district public school team where they stand out like a sore thumb. No drama club or school play either. Geeks and nerds galore. Definitely not a school for everyone.

    Among S1's friends who are going to T20 this year, I don't know of any that got in with a hook that I am aware of.

    I am now seeing that much larger public schools are starting to do the same (not ranking)
  • hmom5hmom5 - Posts: 10,882 Senior Member
    Not ranking really does not help the kids. In A Is For Admission, Hernandez gives a lengthy explanation about how colleges rank the unranked. They have formulas for schools they gets lots of applications from such as the top prep and magnet schools. They know where everyone ranks. Not ranking is more a tool to stop open competition and to keep parents out of the principal's office with demands.

    The top magnets have their own issues. Few legacies and athletes, but lots of low income and first gen. That said, it's still more honest and straight forward than the prep schools.
  • MSUDadMSUDad Registered User Posts: 487 Member
    DD's public does not rank, and it would harm the students if they did. In today's USNWR-driven world, colleges brag about the % of kids in the top 10%.

    DD is middle of the pack in her school, but 62% of the class of '09 went to top-30 USNWR schools (most of which brag that a majority of kids are in the top 10% of their class)

    So, I agree with the premise of the OP, "top 10%" stats mean very little
  • arcadiaarcadia Registered User Posts: 2,512 Senior Member
    The girls from the bottom half of their class at Brearley who wind up at Middlebury or Tufts aren't included in the denominator of their colleges' top-10% figures.

    Hogwash. 86% of Middlebury students graduated in the top 10% of their high school class, 93% in the top 25%, and 100% in the top half. The 7% outside the top 25% are recruited athletes, URMs, and development kids. Granted--those schools may not rank grads and hence not be included in the stats, but the reality is that schools like Middlebury and Bowdoin, with acceptance rates hovering around 20%, are not accepting a whole lot of prep school kids outside the top 25%. That may have been the case 20 years ago, but not anymore.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,073 Senior Member
    ^ Hogwash back at you. Colleges that are honest about their statistics make clear that students coming from high schools that do not rank are completely excluded from the calculation of the percentage of enrolled students who were in the top x% of their high school classes, and that unranked students often constitute over 50% of the class. For example, at Brown unranked kids constitute about 60% of applicants and enrollees, and over 50% of accepted students. Looking at ranked students only, 93% of Brown students were in the top 10% of their high school classes. If unranked students are included in the denominator, that percentage would be under 40%.

    Do you really think that Brown students are that much weaker than Middlebury's? There is plenty of room for Brearley kids at Middlebury and elsewhere.

    Do you know anything about Brearley? It's one of the most impressive schools in the world. Classes are pretty small, and about half of any class winds up at the Ivy League or Stanford. Lots of others go to top LACs, including Middlebury (but maybe not), or to universities like Tufts, Chicago, Duke, and many of those will have to be in the bottom half of their class (which is hardly an indication of academic weakness).

    Brearley is right not to rank its students. Colleges are right to admit them without regard to rank. What's stupid is the woofing about how many of your students are top x%.
  • sm74sm74 Registered User Posts: 744 Member
    Top 10% is a perfect example of a ranking mechanism that US news happens to use causing people and institutions to take actions that have nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the student or institution. The statistic clearly is manipulated and does not accurately reflect the true quality of the students at the Institution.
  • JHSJHS Registered User Posts: 17,073 Senior Member
    Your Middlebury numbers come straight out of its Common Data Set, and respond to the following prompt:
    Percent of all degree-seeking, first-time, first-year (freshman) students who had high school class rank within each of the following ranges (report information for those students from whom you collected high school rank information).

    The rest of the form makes clear that (a) the percentages add up to 100% only for students whose schools reported a rank, and (b) only 54% of Middlebury's enrolled freshmen were ranked by their high schools. Middlebury isn't lying or being deceptive, but it's not turning aways kids who may not be in the top half of their class at super-high-quality prep schools.
This discussion has been closed.