Question: My son is a junior. His high school does not rank students, but they supply a "School Profile" to colleges. Since most colleges say that class rank plays a big part in admission decisions, how does this affect the process?
The fact that your son's school doesn't rank is unimportant. Many of the top high schools and prep schools don't--and with good reason. (One guidance counselor told us just the other day that 1/100 of a point separates the #1 student from the #2 student at her school. That sort of hairsplitting is a bit nuts, eh?) Admission officials are used to evaluating transcripts and grades without the benefit of a rank to put them in perspective. Often an admission office has appointed a staff member to oversee applicants from each part of the country, and those officials travel extensively and make an effort to know the schools in their turf. Thus, depending on where your son goes to high school and the target colleges on his list, admission folks may be very familiar with his curriculum and grading system. They'll be able to identify the best students from his high school, even without the advantage of rank. In addition, here are some other related things to think about as you enter the college-admissions fray:
1. Sometimes a school that doesn't rank will present similar information but in a different way. For instance, does your son's school submit student percentiles or deciles to colleges, even if they're not listed on any documents you receive? Does the "School Profile" include graphs that indicate where a student's cumulative GPA falls in relation to that of classmates? It's helpful to ask your son's guidance counselor if you can see whatever colleges will see.
2. Does the profile clearly explain which courses are "weighted" or "honors," "Advanced Placement" etc.? Does the profile explain everything that's atypical about the school's schedule, program, or grading system?
Most parents never check out their child's school profile, but it's a good idea to do so. As you read through, ask yourself if a college admission officer who is unfamiliar with this school might miss something important that should be included in the profile but isn't.
Finally, if your son is an especially strong student, even if the school doesn't rank, you might want to meet with the counselor before he or she writes your son's recommendations next year. Ask if these references can stress the fact that your son is a top performer. It's helpful for admission folks to get this kind of information, even if it's informal and anecdotal rather than statistical.