Does Being Valedictorian or Salutatorian Matter?

Being named valedictorian or salutatorian of your graduating high school class is a high honor — but just what is its significance for your future? In this post, we will explore just what this honor means and how it can benefit you in the future.


What Is a Valedictorian and Salutatorian?

Traditionally, the valedictorian ranks first in a graduating class, while a salutatorian ranks second. The terms are named as such because the salutatorian typically delivers the salutation (greeting) at the commencement ceremony, while the valedictorian delivers the valediction, meaning he or she is the last person to speak.


Some schools use different methods of ranking students. For instance, some schools may choose to name multiples of both honors, or select several valedictorians but no salutatorians. Others might name two students as first and second, respectively, without calling them valedictorians or salutatorians. Schools that do not rank at all typically don’t have these positions, although they might still award honors to students in a top percentage of the graduating class, such as inducting them into cum laude society, as discussed in Is GPA or Class Rank More Important?


Valedictorian/Salutatorian and College Admissions

Being named valedictorian or salutatorian does not factor into college admissions, because these honors are not determined until the end of your senior year of high school. However, your GPA and class rank, which are usually the two determining factors (along with extracurricular activities, in occasional cases) in naming these positions, matter considerably.



As we explain in What Is a Good GPA for Top Schools?, your weighted GPA depends on grades received in all your courses and curriculum rigor. Colleges usually weigh your GPA against others from your high school, since it is difficult to compare two completely different schools, which may be more or less challenging and have different sets of standards for evaluating students.


Therefore, even if you have a 4.0, you may not be at the top of your class, especially if you haven’t taken a particularly rigorous curriculum filled with AP and honors classes. The strength of your curriculum is essential when you are competing to attend a competitive college.


Class Rank

Class rank is a way of indicating how students at a particular school measure up against one another, as we describe in What Class Rank Do I Need to Get into a Top School? Some schools weight GPAs, assigning higher value to AP, IB, or honors courses. Schools that don’t weight GPAs may still take course rigor into consideration when assigning class rank, although some may not.


Still, colleges will regard you as a more favorable applicant if you have a slightly lower unweighted GPA next to someone with a marginally higher GPA who has taken no advanced courses. (For advice on how to decide whether or not to take a high-level course in which you might risk a receiving lower grade, read our post, Is It Better to Get a B in an AP/IB/Honors Course or an A in a Regular Course?)


As we explained earlier, colleges need a way to contextualize applicants from different schools, and class rank — how you measure up against your peers from the same school — allows them to do so. If your school doesn’t rank, don’t worry that you will be at a disadvantage when applying to colleges. Admissions committees have other ways of measuring your success in context.


Both GPA and class rank are important in the college admissions process, although they are just two of many aspects of your college application. However, they are essential in determining your status as valedictorian or salutatorian.

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The Benefits of Being Named Valedictorian or Salutatorian

While being named valedictorian or salutatorian won’t factor into your college admissions status, there are still other benefits to the honor. For instance, there may be some scholarship opportunities available to students named valedictorians or salutatorians at their high schools. (For more tips on applying for scholarships, check out Helpful Scholarship Resources & Tips.)


Likewise, you may be given access to some internships based on this status as well, either the summer before or during college. In any case, this status will be a valuable addition to your resume, even if it won’t help you get into college.


Ultimately, performing well academically in high school — and taking challenging courses — has many benefits, not just in terms of college admissions: you are developing good study habits, learning how to confront challenges, and becoming a hardworking person. And being named valedictorian or salutatorian is a valuable honor to have in your high school and college career and beyond, since you are demonstrating that you have the capacity to excel among your peers.


Do you have questions about how your high school performance affects college admissions? Read these CollegeVine blog posts: 



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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.