Laura Berlinsky-Schine 4 min read Academic Tips and Info

Does Being Valedictorian or Salutatorian Matter?

Being named valedictorian or salutatorian of your graduating high school class is a high honor — but how exactly does it impact your future? In this post, we will define just what exactly “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” mean and how this accomplishment can benefit you.

 

What is a Valedictorian? What is a Salutatorian?

 

There’s often confusion around the difference between valedictorian vs. 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.

 

Most often, there is one valedictorian and one salutatorian. Some schools treat these title differently, though. For instance, some schools may choose to name multiples of both honors, or select several valedictorians but no salutatorians. Schools that do not rank at all typically don’t have these positions, but they might still award honors to students in a top percentage of the graduating class, such as inducting them into an honors society, or giving them special regalia for graduation (such as a cord or stole).

 

Valedictorian vs. Salutatorian Speech

 

Many students strive to become a valedictorian or salutatorian not only for the academic accomplishment, but also for the chance to speak at graduation. Of course, graduation speech policies do vary by school, and not all high schools will have valedictorians and salutatorians speak; some may instead invite student council officers to give speeches, or ask the graduating class to vote on a speaker. That said, the valedictorian and salutatorian are traditionally the student speakers at high school graduation.

 

The salutatorian begins the graduation ceremony with a salutation, or a greeting. The purpose of their speech is to welcome everyone to the ceremony and to introduce any important speakers. This opening speech is meant to be more celebratory than reflective.

 

The valedictorian closes the ceremony with a valediction, or a farewell. Unlike the salutatorian, the valedictorian tends to address their class directly. Their speech should be more reflective, reminiscing the standout high school memories and experiences, and highlighting the lessons learned. The valedictorian’s speech also looks ahead to the future, sending the graduating class off with bright ambitions, and encouraging them to hold the memories and lessons close to them as they begin new adventures.

 

Does Being Valedictorian or Salutatorian Matter in 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 matter considerably in college admissions, and these are usually the two determining factors for being a valedictorian for salutatorian (sometimes, extracurriculars are also taken into account).

 

GPA

 

Your weighted GPA depends on grades received in all your courses, and accounts for curriculum rigor. Colleges usually weigh your GPA against others from your high school, since it is difficult to compare GPAS from two completely different schools, as they often have varying sets of standards for evaluating students.

 

So 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. 

 

Valedictorians and salutatorians tend to have near-perfect (or perfect) grades with the most rigorous courses possible on their transcript. 

 

Class Rank

 

Class rank is a way of indicating how students at a particular school measure up against one another. Generally, schools use weighted GPAs when determining class rank, 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. If you want to calculate your GPA, use our GPA calculator

 

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; you won’t 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. Remember that the valedictorian is ranked #1 in their class, and the salutatorian is ranked #2, and these rankings are often based on your weighted GPA.

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. You may be invited to speak at your high school graduation ceremony, for instance. There may also be some scholarship opportunities available to students named valedictorians or salutatorians at their high schools. 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.