Question: My high school (in Montgomery County, Md.) stopped ranking students last year. I didn't mind that at the time, but now that I'm looking at scholarships, a lot of them require applicants to be in the top five or 10 percent of their class. I don't know my ranking since the school doesn't do that anymore. Can I still apply?
The Montgomery County public schools are well known for producing strong, competitive students with sky-high grades in rigorous classes and where the number-one GPA may be separated from number 20 by a fraction of a fraction. Thus, it's no wonder that your school system has joined a growing number of districts that have decided to eliminate class rank. Yet many high schools that don't officially compute a rank are still willing to accommodate students like you who need one for scholarship purposes.
Typically, these high schools won't assign a specific rank but will indicate if a junior or senior is in the top tenth or top quintile. So you need to ask your guidance counselor what the policy is at your school. If he or she staunchly refuses to provide any type of rank for you, you should contact scholarship organizations individually to see if they will let you proceed without one.
Most of the scholarships that request a class rank are “outside" scholarships. This means that they are offered by civic or religious groups, private companies, etc. Yet as you continue with these applications, keep in mind that often the best scholarships actually come from the colleges themselves. Many colleges -- especially the highly sought-after ones -- have excellent “need-based" aid that can make a pricey place quite affordable, even for applicants from low-income households. And for middle-class students who may find that they are too “rich' to qualify for good need-based aid but too “poor" to pay $60,000 a year, there are colleges with “merit scholarships" that don't take financial need into consideration when doling out the dough. Popular universities such as USC, Tulane, Emory, Miami, Notre Dame and Boston College offer major merit opportunities. Some merit scholarships (especially the biggies) require a separate application, while for others, every applicant is automatically considered with no extra forms to complete or essays to write.
If you are hoping for merit scholarships, you may need a crystal ball to estimate which colleges are going to give you the most money, but be sure to hone in on those where your GPA and test scores put you above the median. And don't worry about rank (or lack thereof) because the college folks are accustomed to awarding merit aid without it. In particular, because Montgomery County public schools are well known by countless admission officials, you shouldn't find that you are at a disadvantage at scholarship time without a rank. And hopefully, the demise of class rank is one small way to make your high school experience a bit saner and less stressful, despite the confusion that it's causing you right now!
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