Honors News: August 20, 2015–Is Class Rank a Disappearing Metric?

Of great importance to college applicants in some states (Texas, especially) high school class rank is of paramount importance. Texas high school grads ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes (top 7% at UT Austin for 2015) gain automatic acceptance to state schools, with UT Austin capping automatic admissions at 75% of the total freshman class.

According to the National Association of College Admissions C0unselors (NACAC), only 15% of colleges now consider class rank on its own to be of “considerable importance.”

“It’s disappearing as a metric,” says Lee Coffin, a NACAC member and dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts.

NACAC reports that “a student’s grades in college-prep classes is considered the top factor in college admission decisions, followed by the strength of their curriculum, test scores and overall grade-point average, data show.

“The shift away from class rank is related, in part, to the widespread adoption of weighted grades for students who take honors or advanced classes.

“High school officials ‘want students to focus on their own accomplishments without worrying so much where they fall in the pecking order,’ writes reporter Moriah Balingit of the Washington Post. ‘And with the proliferation of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses — which can boost a student’s grade-point average above a 4.0 — emphasizing rank could push students to overload themselves during their high school years.'”

In the case of UC Berkeley, students who are in the top 9% of statewide high school grads, or in the top 9% of their own high school class, meet only a basic threshold for admission. They must still met the “holistic” requirements of UC Berkeley, which include the following:

    • Your weighted and unweighted grade point average (calculated using 10th and 11th grade UC-approved courses only)
    • Your planned 12th grade courses
    • Your pattern of grades over time
    • The number of college preparatory, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), honors and transferable college courses you have completed
    • Your level of achievement in those courses relative to other UC applicants at your school
    • Your scores on AP or IB exams
    • Your scores on the ACT plus writing or the SAT reasoning test.

These additional requirements go a long way toward ensuring that UC Berkeley students in the top 9% also have other credentials that point toward high academic achievement, especially success with rigorous courses (AP, etc).

Using an automatic percentage as the basis for admission absent additional requirements that evaluate the real academic quality of high school courses is problematic.

One reason is that it encourages some students to transfer to a high school with easier classes and less competition in order to improve class standing.

Another reason is that the test scores of students admitted via automatic admission are somewhat lower; in the case of UT Austin, automatic admits averaged 28 on the ACT, while holistic admits had an average ACT of 30.

The result is a sense of unfairness among students who have completed rigorous coursework at more competitive high schools, made excellent grades, earned high test scores, but not quite made it to the top 10%, or 7% in the case of UT Austin. (UT Austin will admit the top 8% in 2016.)

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted.

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