High schools do a lot to support their students’ college applications. Teachers write recommendation letters and counselors provide transcripts and mid-year reports. But there’s one thing that a growing number of schools no longer do that may complicate college admissions: more and more high schools decline to provide class ranks for their graduates.

Fewer than 20 per cent of U.S. high schools still provide class ranks. And what now often passes for “class rank” can be mind baffling. (Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, VA recently boasted 117 valedictorians who shared the number 1 rank. Many similar examples abound!)

It’s often high-performing schools that have elected to do away with rankings. Their feeling is that class ranks aren’t fair when the difference between someone in the top 5 per cent of her graduating class and someone in the top 10 per cent amounts to less than one-tenth of one per cent. The graduate who gets the lower ranking may still be an A-plus student, but her ranking wouldn’t reflect that.

From an admissions officer’s point of view, however, taking away high school class ranks means having one less piece of information about an applicant. Without a class rank, they say, it can be harder to put an applicant’s transcript and standardized test score in their proper perspective.

For example, say an admissions committee is reviewing an applicant who has 1400-plus SAT score but only a 3.3 GPA. What does the gap between the two mean? Did the student take exceptionally hard classes with tough teachers? Or is he a bright student who failed to apply himself in class? A class rank would help answer that question.

What should you do if your high school is one that no longer provides class ranks?

You need to understand that your file will be lacking a piece of information about your academic performance. You should then try to understand what impact that will have on your application profile. (It won’t mean the same thing for every applicant.) Next, think about the picture that the other information in your file – including your GPA, your test scores, and your transcript – gives of your academic abilities. The next and final step is to make sure that your recommendation letters and essays answer any questions that an admissions committee may be left with regarding your academic track record and abilities.

It may sound like a nuisance to take these extra steps in preparing your applications. There’s already so much that you have to do. However, taking the additional time to head off any misperceptions about your school performance may be the thing that makes the difference in your admissions outcomes.

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