Significance of Public School Rank in Elite Admissions

Hello CC,

Is there a huge difference between ranks 1-3 at a public high school with ~450 students?

I have straight A’s and a rigorous course load, but due to an involvement with band I may end up as rank 2 or 3 by the time college apps swing around. Will this negatively impact my application?

From my own limited experience in going to high school, working in schools, and having a child go through high school: no huge difference. I’ve seen students who didn’t make the top 10 in similarly-sized senior classes go on to Stanford or an Ivy. Good luck!

No. If you think it does, you don’t understand how holistic applications work.

No. In our high school, the top GPA student this year ended up at our non-elite state flagship. Dozens below him are attending elite colleges.

It’s a nice milestone to be Val or sal. But it’s not a game changer compared to anyone in the top 10 percent of the class.

Whether a V or S when to an ‘elite’ college is irrelevant without knowing why. Maybe the finances weren’t there. Maybe the local flagship had a better program for their interest. Maybe they were close to their family and they wanted to stay nearby. Maybe it was a girlfriend/boyfriend. Maybe they missed the deadline.

Don’t quit band.

Thing is, yes, if the V/S also apply and present strong holistic apps, it could affect you. Or someone ranked lower but hitting all the right marks. You also can’t tell if another high school in your community will attract attention, leading adcoms to take one or more of them and not from your hs, rgardless what Naviance shows.

Asking how being #3 affects you suggests you don’t understand enough. If you’re talking collges like Columbia, you need this. It’s holistic.

Years ago Princeton published something showing that valedictorian were accepted at slightly higher rates than what ever the next level down was - and the rate was still quite low. (Though not as low as it is now!) But I suspect it’s not really that they like val’s better, but that on average the people who make valedictoroian are ones that also do everything else well. In my son’s big public school (class size 650 or so), they definitely had Ivy league level acceptance at least in the top 25, which I know only because they announced them at the awards ceremony.

My kids HS does not rank, but, of the 35 at my kid’s HS who did best in class (the kids who all got 4.0 UW, and the highest possible weighted grades) in 2018, 3 went to an Ivy, and one to Stanford. Another three who were not in that group went to an Ivy, another one went to Stanford, two went to MIT, and four went to UChicago. Overall, about 3/4 of the kids who went to an “elite” college were not in that group.

On the other hand, while the HS does not rank, the top 15% of the graduating class are inducted into the Cum Laude Society (the only honors society of which the HS is a member), and as far as I could tell, most of the kids who were accepted to colleges and programs with fairly low acceptance rates were part of this group.

For this year, this is true, at least within my kid’s friend group.

At our high school this year, unhooked val is going to Tufts; unhooked number 10 is going to Columbia. So, no, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference.

OP. This was just last year. So pretty current

My daughter was Val at one of the top two public schools in Florida. A very well known school of choice to adcoms. Everything else was in line as well. Scores >75 ivy cds ecs sports etc. She is not attending an ivy. Only applied to 2. R at h. Wl at other.

Five students are attending an ivy - each finished with a lower gpa, exact rigor like 13 aps or so and lower scores (they were all good friends and shared info). So in my survey of one - it doesn’t matter if you are a Val or a top ten student and have all the rest of the things they are looking for that year. Maybe they had better personal essays or recs too.

Or have these things and any kind of admissions preference. First gen. Legacy. Questbridge etc.

Best of luck. You’ll be fine.

Heck, I wasn’t even in the top ten PERCENT when I applied to college. (Admissions knew this.) And I got into a T20 with a merit scholarship.

Realize that you can’t control every aspect of your life, and that that’s okay. Seriously.

@MWolf 35 kids got an UW 4.0? Wow. We have 3 or 4 out of 750.

You are connecting valedictorian with a higher chance of admission. And while they may be linked, one does not cause the other. This blog post from MIT’s Chris Peterson explains it well:

“ Almost half of the class of 2015 were valedictorians of their high school. Aha! MIT must highly value class rank in our application! No, we don’t. Then why does this happen? Because we do highly value certain academic accomplishments, and if you are doing well enough academically to achieve these things, then you are probably doing pretty well in high school. Additionally, we highly value strong letters of recommendation, and often teachers strongly support students who really blow them away academically.
So we select for these other traits and end up, as a side effect, with a disproportionate number of valedictorians. But it’s not because they’re valedictorians that we select them, but rather that because of the things for which we select they are valedictorians. Or, to paraphrase a line from Llewellyn: being a valedictorian isn’t the reason for the decision; it’s the result of factors which were reason for the decision.”

Put another way - correlation does not imply causation.If you get rejected with a # 3 rank, the identical application with a #1 rank would likely end in the reject pile as well.

Often top rankings require GPA gaming, some better students refuse to play that game and take courses they like, not sticking with courses with highest weight or easiest teachers. In college admissions, differences between #1 & #9 doesn’t value as much as families usually assume but it does matter.

Top 10 percent matters. Above that is just an incremental benefit. Top 1-3 out of 450 are equivalent.

At my daughter’s HS, there are about nine kids who are in a race to the top, gaming the rankings by taking on-line AP classes and summer classes at the local community college, both of which get the highest weighting. My daughter has a 4.0 UW GPA, and has taken the hardest possible class load, yet is ranked #10 because she rightly refuses to play that game. She tells me that the young woman who is currently ranked #1 doesn’t even have a 4.0 UW, but has taken so many online AP classes that it has made up for it. Apparently she doesn’t even take the AP tests. It is depressing. I really, really hope admission offices see through this nonsense. This may sound like a cop-out, but if a school values a kid who games the system over someone like you or my daughter, why would you want to go there? The school will be filled with people who have those sorts of narcissistic goals. Yuck.

@VickiSoCal I have no idea why. The number fluctuates. The school is not one of the schools with a ton of grade inflation - mean grade is 2.94, not 3.5 or something (I do not know what the average GPA is, but it shouldn’t be that different). The school is decent, with a bit more than 25% being State Scholars (in the top 10% of Illinois by GPA + SAT/ACT).

It was actually 33 (I miscounted), and there were fewer in previous years (about 20). I’d need to check again how many there are in the class or 2019.

I think it may be because the district is very educated, and there are a bunch of kids who want to do well.

My daughters school did all rankings by uw. But nearly all classes are ap. No gaming. They are told upfront that they would not get a most rigorous assessment for colleges from gc unless you completed a super high number of aps. I forget but 12 or 13. And the kids were motivated for college more than rank. 100 percent of graduating class of 150 or so going to 4 year colleges. Like 8 years in a row. But it’s a public lottery school and only the most motivated apply. Most avoid.