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How High Schools Are Unknowingly Damaging Students’ Chances for College Admission

With the end of the school year fast approaching, I declare March "Check Your Child's Transcript" month. You might be surprised at what you see. 

Some high schools list every standardized test score the student has taken. Having test scores on the transcript destroys a student's ability to truly apply under a test-optional policy.

Some transcripts list special study skills classes for students on a 504 Plan or an IEP despite it being a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And the state of Florida lists students' immunization records right on the transcript.  

But the single most damaging data point on a transcript could be the student's class rank. Unless the student is ranked at the very top of the class, elite colleges have no interest in that student. They use that class rank as an indicator for how much time they spend on the application and how likely (or unlikely) admission is. One of my students took 16 AP classes and received A's in every class except one B in 9th grade. The student ended up with a class rank outside the top 10% of the class. That rank will keep the student out of the running for many (if not all) highly selective colleges.

Many high schools that eliminate class rank do even more damage to their students' chances by including GPA ranges and percentiles of the class on the school profile. For example, another one of my students attends a high school that lists GPA ranges on the school profile, each equating to a quintile (20%) of the class. This student has "A" range grades in a long list of honors and AP classes, save one B+ in 10th grade. Yet their GPA falls within the second quintile. This leads colleges to classify the student as being in the top 40% of the class. Quintiles, deciles, and percentages based on GPAs are a form of ranking. In fact, they are less accurate and more damaging than even class rank.

I have successfully guided dozens of families in getting test scores, 504 Plans, class rank, and GPA ranges removed from transcripts and school profiles. However, some high schools refuse to budge. As of 2022, NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counselors, no longer recommends in its "Guide to the College Admission Process" that high schools need to provide any indication of class rank or percentiles, stating that “[i]t is up to the discretion of the high school what is and what is not included on these forms.” 

The high schools still using class rank, GPA ranges, and percentiles create a culture of competition among their students. At these high schools, it is not uncommon to see students taking seven or eight AP classes without a lunch break or spending their summers taking AP classes in order to increase their rank or GPA. High schools have the power and agency to eliminate data points from transcripts and school profiles to allow all of their students to shine, rather than only the top few.

READ MORE: The #1 Data Point That Makes a Difference Between an Acceptance and a Denial

In like a lion
. March is a month to be a force of change. Parents, check those transcripts and school profiles. School counselors, know that colleges will work with whatever you provide. For the handful of service academies, special programs, and scholarships that require class rank, high schools can retain an internal ranking for these rare exceptions. In the end, we want students to have a fighting chance of getting into college rather than fighting each other to get ahead.