More Than Just a Number: The Power of Class Rank

January 30, 2015

Students tend to associate senior year with a certain ease: getting ready for prom, graduation and soaking up the last drops of the high school experience. With no more worries and future plans decided, most seniors just want to sleep until their stay ends. Well, at least that’s the expectation.

Senior Garrett Wikoff, who currently ranks number one in his class of 374, does not fit this mold. Although he only has three classes, relaxing will not occupy space on his agenda. Striving to stay at the top came not without sacrifice and a fair share of stress for Wikoff, who had to switch from playing tennis to being a manager for the team instead.

When Wikoff finishes high school, knowledge will hopefully follow him to college or life in the future — knowledge that has been expressed throughout high school by a simple number: class rank.

“I’m the only person that has to worry about my class rank until the last day of high school,” Wikoff said. “Everyone else is just kicking back.”

College Board defines class ranking as a “mathematical summary of a student’s academic record as compared with other students in his/her class.” High school students stay aware of their rank or at least know that this system exists. Some of the more competitive students, like Wikoff, put the majority of their focus in high school on maintaining their rank.

“It has caused me some stress, my hair is greying,” Wikoff said. “Even this year I do homework on most days and when I don’t do homework, it’s not because I don’t have any, it’s only because I don’t feel like doing it.”

GPA stands for “grade point average” and is calculated by adding together the grades of all classes then dividing by the number of classes taken. Pre-AP and AP classes add 10 weighted points to a student’s GPA, with class rank based on this weighted GPA. For example, a 95 in AP World History would be a 105 when added.

Class rank often affects students’ college plans. Some states, including Texas, implement percent plans, in which students in a certain percentile receive automatic admission to state colleges. These plans started to achieve more diversity in universities. When colleges select students based only on rank, they ignore other achievements and activities students participated in during high school. In Texas, students must be ranked in the top 10 percent to receive automatic admission, but numbers vary from college to college. Some colleges also provide scholarship opportunities based on class rank.

There are ways for students to cheat the system to get your rank higher and that doesn’t necessarily mean you are more intelligent.”

— Sam Berbel, 12

Since class rank possesses the power to affect a student’s future, several positive and negative results have developed on this controversial subject. Aiming to be accepted into University of Texas at Austin, a school with an “automatic acceptance” policy, senior Sam Berbel knows firsthand the struggles of maintaining a high class rank.

“It’s just a competitive scoring system,” Berbel said. “There are ways for students to cheat the system to get your rank higher and that doesn’t necessarily mean you are more intelligent.”

Students feel others cheat the system by taking all the weighted classes they can, even if not necessary. Even though Berbel may not agree with the class rank system, he recognizes its significance to the college he wants to attend.

“Colleges use [class rank] to try and assess you on the spot,” Berbel said. “I see it as a necessary evil.”

However, ranking students by their GPA remains important when applying to a college that doesn’t have an automatic acceptance policy. The admissions process might look a little more balanced. In this case, class rank alone can’t get a student into college. Other factors of college acceptance include:


Extracurricular activities

Rigor of classes taken

SAT and ACT scores

Results of AP exams

Student portfolios

Personal recommendations from teachers or counselors describing specific attributes, skills and achievements

People often question the accuracy of class rank and how schools can be fairly compared. To illustrate, a student ranking in the top 25 percent at a more academically-competitive school jumps up to the top 5 percent upon later transferring to a less competitive one, still making the same grades. This presents a problem when colleges select future students because so many that possess the same capability of being in the top of their class keep being excluded.

Falling just under the top 10 percent of her class, senior Annie Downs believes that class rank does not accurately measure her worth as a student.

“It’s just numbers,” Downs said. “There are different fields of intelligence. I think I do possess the capability of placing in the top 10 percent, but sometimes I just don’t put forth the effort.”

Coming from a private school that didn’t have the same system, junior Brooke Whetzel thinks about class rank from a slightly different perspective. Her old school revealed rank at the end of the year and only to the top student. While several deem the class rank system bad, Whetzel sees its benefits.

“I think it encourages healthy competition and it rewards the people who work hard,” Whetzel said. “[Class rank is] more than just a number — it means ability to get scholarship money for college.”

Students compete on the field, on the court and in the classroom. Competition can increase a student’s motivation to do well but may also have a negative impact on one’s education. Junior Fiona Hoang does not take Pre-AP and AP classes to learn more but rather to boost her ranking.

“I don’t need a lot of the classes I’m taking right now for my major in college,” Hoang said. “I’ve learned the basics that I will need for my future, but I need to take things that will get my GPA higher.”

Despite the stress caused by class rank, it remains important for students to be aware of their goals and their rank whether or not they agree with the system, as colleges consider it in the admissions process.

Oftentimes, underclassmen don’t think about class rank. They think of college as “so far away,” forgetting their transcript starts in ninth grade. Freshman Kassi Arrington understands the importance of keeping her grades up all through high school.

“I know what [class rank] is, but I don’t really care right now,” Arrington said. “I know that it will be important later.”

Berbel spent the first year and a half of high school oblivious of the significance of class rank.

“I wasn’t aware [of class rank] until halfway through my sophomore year,” Berbel said. “Someone was like, ‘You should be keeping up with your class rank’ and I was like, ‘What the heck is that?’” 

Students their freshman year need to work harder in their classes now and get their GPA up now, because it will be important for their future.”

— Ms. Vorsino, counselor

As Legacy’s lead counselor, Ms. Dana Vorsino works with class rank everyday. To freshmen, Ms. Vorsino shares some wise advice.

“We try and get the information out to freshmen as much as possible,” Ms. Vorsino said. “I would tell students their freshman year they need to work harder in their classes now and get their GPA up now, because it will be important for their future.”

The system of ranking students may change in the future, but for now continues to govern the way many high schoolers view their intelligence and control the admittance of students into college.

“To me, [class rank] is a benefit because that way you know exactly what scores you have to get,” Ms. Vorsino said. “It’s definitely a good reflection of the effort students put into school.”

(Photo by Sterling Greback)

1 Comment

One Response to “More Than Just a Number: The Power of Class Rank”

  1. Joe Goodman on May 20th, 2015 10:33 am

    Excellent article. A wake up call for students, food for thought to college administrators.

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