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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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How to Become Valedictorian: 5 Tips

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It’s a dream for many high schoolers: earning the honor of being named valedictorian. But it’s also a challenging feat to accomplish, and by definition, only one student per high school class can do it. So, what does it really take to become valedictorian? 


What Is a Valedictorian?


The valedictorian is usually the person with the highest weighted GPA among all the students in their class. That means that in addition to getting good grades, they also need to take a challenging course load. 


The valedictorian typically delivers a speech at the commencement ceremony and often has other honors, such as wearing special regalia.


Is Being Valedictorian Worth It?


Of course, being named valedictorian is a huge honor. But there are some downsides to it. For starters, it can lead to a lot of stress and competition with other high-achieving classmates, which could ultimately make for a hostile environment. Plus, if you focus on studying to the exclusion of anything else, you’ll miss out on participating in extracurricular activities and socializing with your friends.


Remember, too, that your status as valedictorian won’t affect your chances of getting into your dream college because rankings aren’t finalized until second semester senior year, after the college admissions cycle. (Although if your school does rank, adcoms will see your previous status.)


While a rank of no. 1 will impress adcoms, selective colleges receive tons of applications from high-achieving students. They want students who distinguish themselves outside of the classroom, too.


The qualitative aspects of your application — activities, essays, your unique hooks, and your story — are what will set you apart. Arguably, it’s better to have a slightly lower (but still competitive) class ranking and make the time to pursue your interests outside the classroom. This will also be helpful in developing yourself as a person and preparing yourself for life beyond school.


Tips for Becoming Valedictorian


1. Make a plan early on.


If you hope to graduate first in your class, then you’ll need to start working on your goals early. In freshman year, work on developing a plan for studying and completing your assignments.


2. Study, study, study.


Becoming valedictorian depends on your grades. They’re also critical for getting into a selective college. Most top schools use the Academic Index, a metric based on your GPA and standardized test scores, to filter out candidates before even looking at the qualitative aspects of their application, and a strong GPA will help you make the cut. This means studying, and studying hard.


3. Take a challenging course load.


Valedictorian doesn’t just depend on your grades. Because your weighted GPA is typically the metric that will qualify you for the honor, you’ll also need to take a challenging course load, the most challenging one available to you. That means plenty of honors and AP or IB courses. 


If you’re aiming for the top of your class, you might be tempted to take an easier version of a class that will guarantee you an A. But for college, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re up to the challenge of a rigorous course load. We advise students to take the more advanced version of a course if they think they can earn at least a B


4. Get a study buddy.


No, this isn’t a “keep your enemies closer” strategy. Working with your peers will benefit you both. You could get a study buddy or create an accountability group to ensure that you and your friends are all working hard.


5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.


Your teachers want you to succeed. You don’t have to be struggling to ask for help — many will be eager to support you. This is true of tutoring, too — even if you want to bring your A to an A+, a little extra support can always help you.


Above all else, though, you should prioritize your mental health. It’s not worth sacrificing your well-being to earn the status of valedictorian. 

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How to Make Your Profile Competitive for College Admissions


Getting into college isn’t only about grades. Other aspects of your application matter, too. Here are tips for making your profile stand out.


Develop your extracurricular interests. 


Extracurricular activities play a pivotal role in the admissions process. They’re a key way of standing out among other academically qualified applicants. In order to prepare, spend high school developing and honing your passions outside of the classroom. Aim to have at least a couple tier 1 and tier 2 activities — those that are particularly exceptional or rare — along with a handful of tier 3 and tier 4 activities.


Build strong relationships with your teachers and guidance counselor.


Yes, these will be the people who write your college recommendations. But developing relationships with them will help you in other ways, too, from giving you advice on navigating high school to offering ideas for internships, jobs, and other opportunities to pursue. They can also serve as long-term mentors, supporting you well into college and even beyond.


Hone your writing and storytelling skills.


Not everyone is going to write as their profession, but writing is a part of practically every career you can imagine. You also need to hone your writing skills and learn how to tell a story to deliver an effective and compelling college essay. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy writing, you should spend time honing the craft. 


How can you make your application stand out? Use CollegeVine’s chancing engine to estimate your real chances of getting into top colleges all over the country. The service also gives you tips on how to improve your profile for success. Best of all, it’s free!


Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.