How important are high school class rankings to colleges?


Many news stories lately have been on high schools considering dropping class ranking from their transcripts in order to help students get into competitive colleges that might otherwise overlook them. So what do colleges think about this?

Information collected on 18 Minnesota universities and colleges – an even split of public and private – reveals that ten list class ranking as an admissions criteria. Among these schools were all nine public universities and one private college.

It is important to note that though some of the institutions have selected class ranking as an admissions criteria, it is one of the criteria looked at more loosely, where a high SAT or ACT score could easily substitute for a low ranking. Out of the these nine schools, the majority stated that an applicant’s class ranking needed to be in the top 50% of his or her high school class, while only two wanted class ranking in the top 30-35%.

The colleges that did not list class ranking as an admissions factor focused mainly on GPA and past coursework. Two schools in particular stood out in my research: Carlton College and St. Olaf College.

Carleton College, which does not use class ranking, is one of Minnesota’s toughest schools to get into, with a freshmen acceptance rate of 27.5% (Fall 2008).  The institution focuses on GPA and an applicant’s academic curriculum. Its admissions page states: “The most important part of your application is the transcript which lists the courses you have taken and how you have performed.”

St. Olaf College also doesn’t  use class ranking as an admission criteria, but focuses its attention on high school coursework. The college looks at two things when evaluating a transcript: difficulty of the classes taken by the applicant and the grades received in those classes.  Instead of focusing on just high marks without regard to the difficulty of the class, St. Olaf prefers “…to accept applicants with lower grades in more challenging classes to ones with very high grades in easier classes.”

This demonstrates a very interesting conclusion. Private colleges, which are generally seen as harder places to attain acceptance, appear to be the majority of colleges in Minnesota that do not focus admissions on class ranking. However, even when class ranking is listed as a criteria, it does not seem as high a priority as students might assume.

This is something both highly competitive colleges and those not as competitive alike should pay attention to. Put less emphasis on peer comparative statistics; instead focus on students’ individual achievements because in the end it will provide a better indication of the stronger applicants.

(The schools looked at in this piece were: University of Minnesota, MSU – Mankato, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Augsburg, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Olaf, Macalester, CSB/SJU, UMD, Carlton, St. Thomas, Bethel, MSU – Moorhead, Winona State, Metro State, St. Kate’s, and SMSU.)