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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What is Class Rank and Why is it Important?

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It’s no secret that today’s teens face a significant amount of stress in their daily lives. From midterm exams to SAT prep, students are constantly put to the test. And while you probably know that many teens’ high schools rank students based on their grade point average (GPA), you might not understand exactly how class rank is used.


So, why do some schools rank their students? What goes into determining class rank? And how crucial is this factor to college admissions? Read on to learn more about class rank and how this number can affect your teen’s college applications.


What Is Class Rank?


Class rank offers a numerical representation of a student’s academic achievements in comparison to those of their peers. Schools calculate a student’s class rank by taking their GPA and assessing it in relation to individuals from the same graduating class. If your grade has 100 students, and your GPA is better than 90 of them, then you are ranked number 10 and you’re in the top 10 percent of your graduating class.


It’s important to note that class rank is evaluated multiple times throughout a student’s high school career. In fact, some schools reassess class rank during every single grading period. So, just because your teen’s class rank isn’t where they want it to be doesn’t mean they can’t move up.


Understanding Weighted vs. Unweighted Class Rank


If your teen asks their school for class rank information, they might receive two different numbers: an unweighted rank and a weighted rank. Unweighted class rank is calculated using an unweighted GPA, and measures student success on a scale of 0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest. On the other hand, weighted class rank is based on the weighted GPA scale, which ranges from 0 to 5.0. Rather than viewing all courses as equal, weighted class rank takes the difficulty of courses into account, assigning more value to AP or IB classes.


So, how does this system work in practice? With the unweighted system, students who earn all As in normal courses have the same GPA as those who earn all As in AP classes. However, under the weighted system, students who have taken AP and IB classes often have higher GPAs and ranks, even if they earned slightly lower grades. Weighted class rank is more commonly used since it takes into account the rigor of a student’s transcript.

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Why Is Class Rank Important to Admissions Departments?


Although GPA is an important factor in college admissions, it’s not the only measure of a student’s high school achievement. The benefit of class rank is that it allows college admissions officers to evaluate how students performed in relation to their classmates.


The fact is that not all high schools grade their students with the same level of rigor. While some high schools (and teachers) give relatively few high grades, others are much more liberal in handing out As. In other words, a B student at one school might actually know more and be more accomplished than an A student at another. By looking at a student’s class rank, colleges can see how applicants compare to others at their school and determine which applicant profiles are strongest.  


Additionally, class rank is a great way to evaluate how students compare to others with similar resources. It’s a simple truth that not all high schools provide students with equal opportunities. While one school might offer twelve AP classes, another might only have one or two. Using class rank, colleges can assess the degree to which students took advantage of the opportunities available to them.


What if My Teen’s High School Doesn’t Rank?


Some schools only give out vaguer ranks, such as “top 10%” or “top 25%” of the graduating class. Others don’t rank at all. Colleges will understand that whether or not a school ranks is out of your high schooler’s control. If your teen’s high school doesn’t rank their students, colleges will simply give more weight to other factors, such as GPA. Keep in mind that many colleges also conduct admissions on a regional basis, meaning that your student’s regional admissions officer will likely be familiar with the relative difficulty of the local high school. Based on your teen’s transcript, they should have a general idea of their standing, even if their high school doesn’t rank.


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Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.