Survey Finds Grades More Important Than Class Ranking

NEWARK – Out of 32 colleges and universities surveyed by Worcester County Public Schools’ Class Rank Committee, 29 of them (or 91 percent) stated that the designation of valedictorian or salutatorian has no bearing on the admissions process. 

In contrast, the committee concluded that a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) and selection of courses with rigor (such as accelerated, Advanced Placement, and concurrent enrollment courses) were the primary factors considered by college admissions offices, based on survey results.

“The student transcript was found to be the top consideration for college admissions, according to the colleges surveyed,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. Richard Walker. “The committee concluded that the significance of class rank and the valedictorian/salutatorian designations was one of perception, rather than an actuality.”

This was one of several conclusions made by the Class Rank Committee, a 28-member task force comprised of parents, students, teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators, which held its second meeting on Nov. 12. In addition to reviewing survey results, Admissions Director Aaron Basko, Salisbury University, and Admissions Counselor Kimberly Gordy, Goucher College, were present to field questions from the committee.

“GPA and the selection of courses with the ‘rigor factor’ are how we primarily distinguish students from each other,” said Basko. “At Salisbury University, we have a holistic approach to admissions, looking for a consistent story in the student’s GPA, course selections, references, and essays.”

According to Gordy, Goucher College uses similar admissions criteria.

“Although class rank can be one marker of achievement,” she said, “we ultimately look at the quality education a student receives.”

In fact, only 39 percent of accepted students at Goucher reported class rank in their application materials, she said.

University of Maryland College Park, Yale University, Washington College, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Stevenson University, Goucher College, University of Delaware, Virginia Tech, Salisbury University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Elon University, University of North Carolina, and Ohio State University are some of the institutions surveyed that reported that the student’s transcript – evaluated on GPA and course rigor – was the most important admissions criteria. Only three colleges surveyed – Georgetown University, Elon University, and the US Naval Academy – reported that in addition to GPA and course rigor, a valedictorian or salutatorian designation might give an applicant an edge in admissions.

The survey also asked colleges and universities if the valedictorian or salutatorian designations affected scholarships. Thirty colleges and universities out of 32 (or 94 percent) reported that the valedictorian and salutatorian designations did not affect scholarship awards. University of Stony Brook reported that the university continues to offer a scholarship to students with either designation, while Elon University stated that the valedictorian designation could be an identifier for a scholarship award.

Colleges and universities surveyed acknowledged that most admissions and scholarship decisions are made prior to high schools designating valedictorians and salutatorians.

Out of the 24 Maryland school systems, 19 responded to the Class Rank Committee survey. The majority of school systems, or 13 (including Worcester County Public Schools), currently designate a valedictorian and salutatorian for the graduating class. Six school systems provided other recognition procedures or allowed high schools to make their own decisions about whether to have a valedictorian or salutatorian.

The Class Rank Committee concluded that since the student transcript is the primary consideration for college admissions, not a valedictorian and salutatorian designation or even class rank, school systems could elect to choose a recognition program that they believed would benefit students.

“Developing the whole student is what is most important,” reported Worcester Technical High School Guidance Counselor Jessica Eisemann for her sub-committee. “We [a class rank sub-committee] believe that the valedictorian/salutatorian program places too much competition on students.” The emphasis for students, all sub-groups reported, should be on developing a transcript with rigor that makes sense.

“The next step,” said Walker, “is to distribute a survey to each committee member, asking for their recommendations.”

The survey will present members with the opportunity to select one of three options: 1. Keep the current recognition program, without changes; 2. Keep the current recognition program, with changes (such as courses accepted in the class rank calculation); or 3. Eliminate the current recognition program and replace it with another (such as a three-tiered recognition program).

Survey results will be presented at the next Class Rank Committee meeting, scheduled for Dec. 11. “If the committee opts to recommend changes from the current recognition program,” explained Walker, “the next meeting will explore new recognition guidelines (such as cut points for tiers, or coursework to be included), as well as a possible timeline for implementation.”