Is Second Decile Rank a Deal-Breaker?

Question: I am a high school senior who is looking to apply to some top colleges. I got to a very competitive school (ranked in the top 20 schools in the nation by US News). My school is extremely rigorous and as a result I am not in the top 10% but the top 20%. Will my class rank keep me out of top schools like Stanford, Harvard, Duke etc. I don’t want my application to be thrown out just because I’m in the top 20% instead of top ten. I have seen the stats of these schools and it seems like the only students who get in who aren’t in the top ten percent are athletes.

When college admission committees evaluate their candidates, they don’t just focus on the “numbers” (GPA, rank, test scores) but also on the factors that contribute to these numbers. So, when a high school is especially rigorous and/or competitive, admission officials realize that a student in the second decile may, in fact, be stronger than a student in the first decile elsewhere.  The admission officials also note if the student has a “rising record” (i.e., grades improved after freshman or sophomore year) or if there were extenuating circumstances that might have affected the grades and thus the class rank (e.g., the student took an exceptionally demanding course load or missed school due to a serious illness or family crisis).

Thus, admission committees don’t look at a rank in isolation, and they realize that at some cut-throat high schools, a single B+ can send a student from the top tenth down to the second one.  But, nonetheless, colleges do like to boast that they have high percentages of students who were in the top tenth of their graduating classes. So it’s definitely an advantage to land there, yet it’s not an automatic deal-breaker for those who don’t.

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