April 5, 2006
An increasing number of high schools no longer provide class rank to colleges, a move that may give students an extra edge when applying to elite schools with shrinking acceptance rates.
Of six Ivy League schools that have reported an admit-rate drop this year, Penn had the largest, admitting 17.7 percent of applicants.
A survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling estimates that 40 percent of high schools no longer release rankings to colleges.
This is an adaptation to an admissions process that relies heavily on numerical data, education experts and high school counselors say.
When colleges don’t receive a class rank, they often substitute a student’s grade point average in the formula.
Bev Taylor — who runs Ivy Coach, a New York-based independent college-counseling firm — said many colleges determine the overall academic quality of a student by calculating an “academic index,” a mathematical formula using SAT I and SAT II scores and class rank.
Some counselors say class ranks don’t adequately reflect academic quality for students at top high schools, since these students’ GPAs usually differ by only hundredths of a point.
Recognizing this, high schools are increasingly no longer ranking students, in the hopes that an academic index calculated using GPA will help their students get into elite schools.
Penn Admissions Director Lee Stetson said that he has noticed a drop in the number of high schools submitting class ranks over the last 15 to 20 years.
Stetson added that, in Penn’s admissions process, rankings are becoming “less and less important and performance in a quality curriculum is what counts.”
Applications to Penn’s undergraduate schools ask for class rank, but don’t require it if a high school won’t provide it. Stetson said that a student’s chances of acceptance are not affected one way or the other.
National Association for College Admission Counseling public policy director David Hawkins said in an e-mail interview that the trend is, in part, an attempt to help students strengthen their applications.
At Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, administrators stopped ranking students “years ago,” said school spokeswoman Peggy Caldwell. She added that the school realized that “the ranking system probably hurt more students than it helped.”
Many top universities place “artificial limitations” — like only accepting applicants from the top 10 percent of a high school class — on admissions, Caldwell said.
At a school like Shaker Heights, where student GPAs are often separated by “thousandths” of a point, ranking unfairly reflects the quality of students, she added.
Although many high schools are changing their policies, education experts say that colleges show no sign of changing the way in which they conduct admissions.
Taylor said she conducted an informal survey of admissions officers at the Ivies, all of whom told her that they like to see rankings on applications.
“But that doesn’t mean they have to get it,” Taylor said, adding that it is hard to justify releasing the rankings “when colleges like Penn announce how many valedictorians they’ve rejected.”
Officials at some schools think there are better ways than not ranking to get their students into college, however.
At Philadelphia’s Frankford High School, counselor Alan Zimberg said students are ranked because it is a school in which the levels of academic achievement among students vary greatly.
At Frankford, “very few students can attain what [students ranked] No. 1, 2 and 3 can attain,” Zimberg said. He added that as long as colleges request rankings, his school will continue to provide them.