The Top Ten: So Little to Gain, so Much to Lose

Competition is an accepted facet of society. From an early age we are taught to embrace competition as a good thing, and most of the time, competition is, in fact, valuable. You compete to succeed and be the best that you can be, and there is nothing better than winning, right? This idea of competition for the sake of being the “best” or a “winner” is not limited to the athletic arenas; it exists everywhere.  In school, “success” is measured as being the valedictorian, salutatorian, or a member of the top ten. A competitive academic atmosphere in the school system is seen by most as beneficial because competition encourages students to challenge themselves to achieve success. The immense pressure associated with being “successful,” however, can cause students to get their priorities out of whack. Unfortunately, students begin to value success over honesty, a shortcut over a challenge, and they get duped into believing that it will all pay off in the long run. Ironically, does it really matter? Think about it. When you are older and successful, will your ranking have any real significance, or will you even care?

Logically, one would think that the desire to achieve a high class ranking would drive students to pay close attention in class and study even harder. Not necessarily so. When you compare the smartest and brightest students in a school, believe it or not, they can all get A’s quite easily.1 No one, however, wants 15 valedictorians, so this fosters a negative motivation to achieve success at all costs. In order to one-up their peers, “smart” students learn to work the system, which creates an uneven playing field. Ethically, this is wrong, but students have learned that cheating, lying, and stealing all pay off if they can keep one’s GPA .01 higher than the next student. For many, “cheating” is a harsh word. Others refer to cheating as bending the rules to fit their needs. This “bending” can include parents stepping in to make sure their child’s class schedules are modified to ensure their success, searching for opportunities to take extra classes, and “going to the gym” for their independent PE study. It’s important to note that this creative “bending of the rules” is not for everyone, and these advantages are not made aware to the entire student body. The top ten is not necessarily a reflection of how smart you are or how many A’s you’ve accumulated; it’s also a showcase for your skills at manipulating the administration.

The top ten is not only unfair; it causes the quality of education in schools to suffer. “Overachieving” students do not always place an emphasis on understanding the curriculum; instead, all that matters is getting the highest grade on the test and an A in the class. Schools that have already removed the class ranking system found that students were able to focus more on actually learning the material instead of worrying about their GPAs.2

Students create their schedules to ensure that their GPA is safe even if that entails skipping out on a challenge. When figuring out one’s GPA, honors courses and AP courses weigh the same. AP courses, however, are more rigorous and more time consuming than honors courses. But since these two types of classes weigh the same, isn’t it “smarter” and easier to take the honors classes if it means a guaranteed A with less work? The competitive atmosphere in the school system encourages students to take shortcuts and easier courses instead of challenging themselves, which is the absolute opposite of the intended purpose of competition.

One of the prime advantages to achieving a top ten ranking is to appear more attractive to college recruiters. According to the guru of college admissions, the College Board,  in the recent years, a majority of colleges have stopped using class ranking in the admissions process.3 The reason colleges have done away with the class ranking is because they believe it is not an accurate portrayal of a student’s capabilities, work ethic, and potential. Instead, colleges tend to focus on the rigor of the classes and other factors like test scores, extracurricular activities, and community service. So taking the easier, less rigorous courses may help the class ranking, but it is definitely not helping admission chances. Ironic, right?

Competition has changed the school atmosphere. There is no doubt about it. School is no longer a place where learning is the objective and an education is the goal. It has been reduced and re-defined to a place of strategies employed to achieve the status of “success.” Recent statistics by the National Association for College Admission Counselling reveal that approximately fifty percent of all high schools no longer report class ranking.4 If your high school still ranks students, they may need to begin contemplating their definition of success.

  1. Delgado, Jennifer, Tara Malone, and Jenn Zimmerman. “More Top High Schools Eliminate Class Rank.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 9 June 2011. Web. 15 July 2014. []
  2. Finder, Alan. “Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Colleges.” New York Times. New York Times, 5 March 2008. Web. 15 July 2014. []
  3. “Class Rank & College Admission.” CollegeBoard. CollegeBoard, n.d. Web. 15 July 2014. []
  4. Walker, Karen. “Rank in Class and College Admission.” Education Partnerships. EPI, 25 June 2010. Web. 15 July 2014. []

Noah is a senior at Palm Desert High School. He hopes to attend The College of William & Mary and major in Marketing.

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