What Do Admission Officials Know About Applicants' High Schools?
My daughter's Maryland high school is ranked high but is very well-known for grade inflation. Therefore, her GPA is probably higher than it would be somewhere else, and our school does not do class rankings. Will colleges know that her GPA is "artificially" high or will they weigh her against kids from other schools with the same GPA as hers? Without ranking, it is hard for them to see a true picture of her GPA. My daughter asked her counselor for an "unofficial" ranking and she's in the top 30 percent but no higher than that. She has a 34 ACT and has already been denied at William & Mary so that's why we're thinking they may know about the grade inflation -- on paper, she should have gotten in.
Admission officers, especially at "elite" colleges, go out of their way to view applicants in the context of the high schools they attend and to learn about unfamiliar schools before issuing final verdicts. Sometimes, when the candidate hails from East Podunk High, this "research" can be hit or miss. But it sounds like your daughter's school is as well known to admission officials as the snazzy private academies, and this will be especially true at "nearby" universities like William & Mary, which have undoubtedly received mountains of applications from your Maryland school for eons.
Thus, it is likely that admission officials at William & Mary (and at all of your daughter's other target colleges) will weigh her against recent applicants from your high school and against her current classmates, too (even if the college folks won't completely concede the latter), and not as much against applicants from other places. They will look at your daughter's GPA and have an understanding of what it means because they are experienced in evaluating candidates from this high school. They will know that your daughter attends a rigorous school full of bright students with ambitious goals, but they may also believe that the grades there are "artificially" inflated, as you've suggested. Moreover, according to the College Board, 95 percent of ranked students admitted to William & Mary are in the top quarter of their class. Even if your high school does not provide a rank, admission officials will recognize from your daughter's course load and grades that she is in the top third but not the top quarter.
In the past couple days, "The Dean" has heard surprising stories about strong students who were turned away from William & Mary or from UVA in this seemingly hyper-selective year, and I expect there will be more where these came from. So, if it's any consolation to you and your daughter, she is in good company. But do anticipate more head-spinning competition from within your high school and beyond, and make sure that your daughter's college list includes "Realistic" and "Safe" options that she's excited about.
If you'd like to submit a question to College Confidential, please send it along here.