WHEN THE ADMISSIONS offices in northeastern colleges make their final decisions on whom to accept or deny this year, they won't be able to rely on one of the most widely used criteria-class rank. That's because many high schools, especially those that are highly competitive, have stopped providing class rank information to colleges.
In my conversations with high school guidance counselors, I have learned that many schools in our state stopped reporting class rank primarily due to student anxiety. School boards and school administrations feel that too many students choose classes that will improve their GPA, and thus rank, rather than those from which they will learn the most. They noticed that some top-ranked students were avoiding subjects that did not have AP classes, such as art and music, while others were avoiding difficult classes so as not to hurt their GPA. In their opinion, those decisions were preventing their students from getting a well-rounded education.
We hope this practice doesn't hurt more students than it helps.
Critics claim ranks are skewed by the size and quality of an applicant's high school. Admissions officers counter that years of experience have provided them with sufficient background information about the vast majority of the high schools they receive applications from to ensure that judgments about class ranks are not made in a vacuum.
To learn if my peers in the Northeast had experienced a similar trend, I surveyed admissions directors at colleges throughout the region. This is what I found:
93 percent of respondents have noticed this new trend in applications
67 percent have stopped using class rank or consider it only when provided, and do not penalize students for its omission
12 percent contact the high school to obtain class rank if one is not provided
20 percent obtain class ranks from high schools when awarding scholarships
43 percent said class rank is a strong or very strong factor for admission
48 percent said class rank is a strong or very strong factor for scholarships.
The trend carried in all responding states: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. (168 directors were surveyed, 42 responded.)
Although Rowan University doesn't penalize students for not submitting class rank, the practice has caused some difficulties. As a competitive university with more than 8,000 applications for 1,300 seats, class rank and SAT scores are important factors in deciding whom to admit. If class rank is not submitted, then SAT scores carry greater weight, along with other factors such as transcripts, activities, and recommendations.
This trend is unfortunate because a recent study by the College Board determined that a combination of class rank and SAT scores provides the best predictor of first year success in college. Neither factor alone was a better predictor than the two taken together. In the past, an academic selection index as frequently one of the primary criteria utilized by colleges and universities when considering students for admission. Standardized test scores are combined with high school percentile ranks in a formula to calculate the selection index. But a selection index can't be computed without rank reporting.
If a high school does not release individual class ranks, it is helpful to college admissions officers if the school provides a profile of the senior class showing what percentages of students fall in particular grade point average ranges. A student's GPA gives a general idea of where the student ranks in relation to the rest of the class. The more specific these grade point ranges are, the more accurate the estimation of class rank becomes.
All the admissions directors I surveyed take the same approach. We do our best to make correct decisions without using the class rank factor we've relied upon in the past. We hope that high school officials realize we are experienced professionals who desire only to make correct decisions about whether or not applicants can succeed at our institutions. Although the lack of class ranks makes our jobs more difficult, we must do our best to ensure that this trend doesn't hurt more students than it helps.
Al Betts is director of Admissions at Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.