College applicants might have one less number to worry about on their applications.
In recent years, the importance of class rank as a factor in admissions decisions has steadily declined, a phenomenon with meaningful implications for overstressed high school students.
“We’ve noticed a pretty precipitous decline in the level of importance that colleges attribute to class rank,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda confirmed that class rank is not an essential factor in Penn’s admissions process.
“From a multidecade perspective, class rank has become less prevalent in secondary schools,” he said, adding that only about 30 percent of Penn’s applicant pool typically attends a school that ranks its students. “Class rank has become less prevalent in our pools, and therefore, less relevant,” Furda said.
Hawkins cited two primary reasons for the decline in the importance of class rank. The first deals with its limitations in comparing students across different high schools.
“Clearly class rank only means something in the context of the school where the student attended high school,” he said. “Rank is a relative indicator to begin with.”
Hawkins also said that other parts of the application — like test scores and grade point averages — yield more useful information about the applicant than class rank. “Its value is derived from other factors that are known during the process,” he said.
The second reason is a general trend among high schools of choosing not to collect and report class rank in order to promote a more positive atmosphere among students, Hawkins said. Given concern over student mental health, particularly during the college application process, decisions like this could be a step in the right direction.
“At the educational level, high schools might feel that class rank is a counterproductive thing to measure,” Hawkins said. “They want them to do the best that they can and let their academic record stand on its own.”
College freshman Wai Wing Lau, whose high school calculated class rankings, believes that the measure can be useful. “I certainly do think it can be used for importance when it comes to applying to colleges,” he said.
However, Lau also acknowledged that class rank can contribute to a stressful student environment.
“Portraying students as a number can really create this huge competition and societal pressure on the kids to do well,” he said. “It just leads to stress.”
Wharton freshman Tiffany Yung, on the other hand, attended a high school that did not rank. Although she said that her school was still competitive, she believes that calculating class rank would have made the competition even more intense.
“I think it would be more cutthroat because then our grades would be out there for the rest of the school to see,” she said. “And then the competition for Ivy Leagues would be greater.”
Yung also said that class rank can be a skewed measure of an applicant’s academic success because students can take easier courses, giving them higher grade point averages than students who challenge themselves.
“A student with an easier course load might not necessarily be prepared for a college like Penn,” she said.
Like Lau, Yung emphasized that class rank can create additional stress among students who are already worried about obtaining high numerical scores for other parts of their applications.
“There’s a lot of pressure with all these quantitative figures in an application — the SATs, the ACTs and your GPA in general,” Yung said, adding that she appreciated “not having that extra number to define me.”
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