College & Workforce Readiness

Problems with Class Rank

By Katie Ash — December 04, 2007 1 min read

I’m not one to hold grudges, but my college application process was one of the most stressful and disappointing experiences in my recent memory. Despite four years of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, college-level classes, and loads of homework, I was still rejected from my first-choice school. Afterwards, I felt that if I had chosen to take a less-rigorous curriculum during high school, I would have had higher grades, and consequently, a higher class rank, which may have resulted in an acceptance letter.

Of course, that’s all speculative, and some would just call me bitter, but I don’t think I’m alone in my frustration. This past fall, I watched my younger sister struggle with the same problem I had when I was applying to college: how to get admissions officers to see you as more than a class rank. So it made me happy to see this article in the Dallas Morning News, which says that the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions officers are putting less emphasis on rank, and more focus on essays, what classes the student took, and other factors.

When admissions officers look at each kid as a whole package, I think it makes students more likely to pursue activities, courses, and curricula that interest and inspire them most, rather than choosing whatever will keep them in the top 10 percent of their class. For some students, those paths are synonymous; others are not so lucky. I do not regret choosing the curriculum that I did in high school, as it shaped the way I think and instilled in me a life-long love of learning and education, but I do wish that it had not come at such a high price.

Enthusiasm, motivation, and determination are qualities that are strong predictors of success, but they can’t always be defined by a number. And I think it’s great that more college admissions officers are warming up to that idea.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.