In my last blog, I told you a little more about my personal college application process and offered a few suggestions for you to get started. Here, however, I’d like to tackle a related yet perhaps even more complicated topic: class rank.
Before moving forward, however, I want to emphasize that we all have different conceptions of success. For some, success is defined by numbers: grades, rankings, test scores. For others, it’s defined by the positive feedback they receive from their mentors or peers. And for even others, it encompasses familial challenges or personal life goals. What’s most important to realize is that no one form of success is best, and that each has its own merits. As many colleges admit students solely based on their class rank and many students and families define success by class rank, I’m going to share with you some strategies that helped me achieve my own academic goals throughout high school.
Two questions that I’ve been asked in the past are, “How can I improve my class rank?” and “How can I become a valedictorian?” I struggle to answer these simply because not only are all of us inherently different, but so are our schools. Some schools offer dozens of advanced courses, while others hardly offer one or two. Some schools have thousands of students, while others have fewer than a hundred. And some schools have so many students with ambitious academic aspirations that the perceived competitive pressure is overwhelming, while in other schools academics aren’t as heavily emphasized. As you can imagine, the list goes on.
Of course, regardless of the school you attend, I do encourage you to challenge yourself in your classes. This does not mean that you should overload your schedule with every single advanced class available to you, even if the students around you may be doing so. I certainly didn’t do this, and I have no regrets. I took a mix of Honors, AP, Dual Enrollment, and even On-Level courses to make room for the extracurriculars that I loved. Ironically, taking a few less-advanced courses actually helped me achieve my academic goals by enabling me to fully focus on my more demanding classes. And when given the choice, take courses that genuinely interest you! You’ll find that it’s easier to learn and study information that captivates you.
Doing well academically also requires that you develop feasible notetaking and study strategies. However, even here, there is no single right method. I personally benefited from handwriting my notes in a notebook during lectures and adding to them once I got home from school. Sometimes, I’d even scribble notes on a piece of paper and rewrite those scribbles into more coherent notes later on. To study, I’d generally read over my notes and write down a few key points, and if I had additional time, I’d also review the images in my textbooks and their captions. This may not be your study method, and that’s perfectly okay! In fact, most teachers recommend a more active studying method than mine – one that involves creating practice questions and testing yourself with flashcards. That method didn’t work very well for me in high school, but if it helps you, then go for it!
Most importantly, however, achieving your academic goals requires that you remain flexible and inquisitive. There’s nothing wrong with not understanding what you learn in class, but be sure to go to tutorials well in advance of exams so that you can ask questions. Teachers are ultimately there to help you, and it never hurts to ask them for clarification on tricky concepts or on assignments. And when assignments don’t necessarily go your way, that’s okay too: Learn from your mistakes, pick yourself back up, and keep moving forward.
With all of this being said, here are four things to remember:
- Your class rank isn’t everything. There’s so much more to you than can be indicated by a single number.
- Your class rank isn’t entirely under your control. You can control how hard you study and how well you perform in your classes, but you can’t control how others do. Don’t beat yourself if your hard work doesn’t result in the number you want – just focus on doing the best you can.
- Not all colleges admit students solely based on class rank. In fact, for many prestigious schools, extracurriculars and essays are emphasized much more heavily than are the numbers.
- Improving your rank shouldn’t come at the cost of something you love. Don’t overwhelm yourself with coursework and studying to the point that you sacrifice your own health or happiness. Take classes and do extracurriculars that genuinely interest you – and don’t apologize for it! Your passion will shine through.
Whether you’re a middle schooler or a freshman or even a graduating senior, I hope that this gives you some piece of mind. Doing well in your classes matters, but so does spending time with the people you love and exploring the activities you enjoy. This may be difficult to accept if you’re surrounded by incredibly competitive students, but I encourage you to keep an open mind. Regardless of the number printed on your transcript, choosing to strike a healthy balance between your personal and academic life will likely bring you an irreplaceable sense of accomplishment — a form of success in its own right.