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How Important is Class Rank in High School?

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: February 1st, 2024
How Important is Class Rank in High School?

If you’re in high school, you’ve probably heard the term “class rank” thrown around. But what exactly is class rank and how important is it when applying for college? In this guide, we’ll break it down for you. 

What is class rank?

Class rank is a way to measure how your academic achievements stack up against other members of your grade. Class rankings are determined by ordering students from highest to lowest according to their GPAs (which can be weighted or unweighted depending on your high school). The higher your GPA, the higher your ranking. The difficulty level of classes is usually taken into account, meaning that Honors and AP courses (plus IB) are weighted more heavily than regular courses. Imagine there are two students with the same exact grades, but one takes AP courses and the other enrolls in regular courses. Even though they’re earning identical grades, the student taking AP classes will have a higher rank. 

Does every high school use ranking? 

Only about half of high schools in the U.S. use class ranking. Competitive private schools in particular are doing away with it. These schools worry that ranking puts some students at a disadvantage for admissions and scholarships. For instance, students at rigorous schools can be very high-achieving and still not make it into the top 10 percent of their class. As a result, some colleges may overlook them. 

Most public high schools still rank students, but some make it optional for students to report their rankings to colleges. Other schools won’t disclose ranking information to the student population, but they’ll track it and provide it to colleges only upon request. 

Also read: Why should I earn college credit in high school?

Does class rank matter for college admissions?

Class rank was once considered among the next most important factors for college admissions after GPA, test scores, grades, and strength of curriculum.  However, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), over 50% of high schools do not report class rankings.  

Selective private colleges tend to view class rank as less important. These colleges place more emphasis on personal essays, recommendations, leadership experience, and individual talents. However, most large public schools (and many scholarship programs) still require applicants to report class rank. Large colleges and universities rely on this information to help sort through the high volume of applications received. 

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Admissions officers will consider it if the information is available to them, but they know it doesn’t paint a complete picture. Many colleges have realized that ranking holds limited value because it only shows student comparison within a particular school. And of course, high schools vary widely in terms of resources, competitiveness, and grading systems. As a student who will apply to colleges, however, it is wise to do your personal best from the get go in high school. This way, you will have options when application time comes.

Advice from an Admissions Professional

For some universities, class rank does matter. For example, you may hear the statement “to qualify for admittance you must be in the top 10% of your class.” However, GPA is almost always considered in the admissions process. Again, check-in with your admissions counselor and they can help guide your expectations.
Kirsten Menigoz

Assistant Director of Admissions, Northern/Central Wisconsin Office - First Year and Transfer Students

Northern Michigan University

So, if you do your personal best, you should be in fine shape for all applications. Some students do just that, and their class rank might not demonstrate that to the degree they would like. Remember, there are other ways to show who you are, such as portfolios, standardized test scores, and strength of transcript that shows that you challenged yourself.

What if my class rank isn’t great?

If you don’t think that your class rank is as good as it could be, do not let that get you down. Class rank is subjective for many different reasons, and many colleges do not look at class rank when determining admissions status. This is where the other elements of your application and resume come into play, and where you can show the schools you are applying to what your strong suits are. 

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Your class rank doesn’t define you as a student, and most colleges know that
  •  While you should strive to achieve a high class ranking, that shouldn’t be your only goal
  • Get involved in extracurriculars, develop leadership qualities, and build relationships with teachers who can write recommendations for you
  • You should work hard to maintain good grades, but don’t worry too much about class rank
Key Takeaways

Also read: Advice for low test takers

Frequently asked questions about class rank

Where do I report my class rank on the Common App?

You’ll report your class rank in the same section as you report your GPA on the Common App. This will be on the “Education” page. If you don’t have a class rank at your high school, you will select “None” in this section.

What if my school doesn't have class rank?

You’re not alone! Many high schools don’t report class rank, especially competitive ones. This will not hurt your chances of college admission. College and scholarship applications will contain an option to select that your school has no class ranking.

Does class rank matter once you have reached the top 5%?

The answer to this question will vary significantly based on the prestige of your high school and the admissions staff reading your application. But to start off, we’ll say that if you are in the top 5%, you are in good shape! That is a great achievement and you should be proud. Of course, if you reach an even higher rank, it will look more prestigious to colleges. Being in the top 5% at a big high school or a competitive one is also more prestigious than at a low-performing or small school. But either way, if you are in the 5%, you are doing great.

How do I report class rank?

You’ll report class rank in different forms based on the opportunity you’re applying for. On the Common App, it should be in the same section where you report your GPA. You can also include it on resumes, and other college applications, such as the Coalition App, will have their own separate space for reporting class rank.

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