…something is missing from many applications: a class ranking, once a major component in admissions decisions…In
the cat-and-mouse maneuvering over admission to prestigious colleges
and universities, thousands of high schools have simply stopped
providing that information, concluding it could harm the chances of
their very good, but not best, students.
One college administrator notes:
"The less information a school gives you, the more whimsical our
decisions will be," he said. "And I don’t know why a school would do
Here is the full article. As implied, colleges will still form rough expectations of what your rank would be. Given this response, we can see at least one reason why parents, and thus high schools, might prefer a fuzzy or ambiguous class ranking to a definite one.
Let us say your kid is smart but has a small chance of making it into a top school. At Yana’s high school (Woodson, in Fairfax) I’ve seen folders of students with 4.0 and 1600 SAT scores who did not get into Harvard or Yale. Getting into those places has elements of a crapshoot. You are gambling, with the odds against you, and a payoff varying only at some threshold level of success (i.e., getting in is what matters; if your kid doesn’t get in, it doesn’t matter how close he came.) Those are the classical conditions where the gambler prefers to take more risk. On the upside, your chance of getting in goes up and on the downside, the longer left-hand tail doesn’t hurt you.
Consider an analogy and assume I am trying to date Salma Hayek. Should I tell her what car I own (GeoPrizm, basically the same as a Toyota Corolla), or should I be vague? Now Salma is no dummy. If I am vague, she will not infer that I own a Rolls-Royce. But a GeoPrizm is clearly below her cut-off point, so with vagueness there is at least some chance she will not nix me right off the bat.
When I was a kid, a great resume meant you could go to Brown (and you only needed a Cadillac to date Raquel Welch). There was less reason to be ambiguous about class rank, as vagaries could hurt your chances in a very real way. You started off with something to lose, and being fifth in your class put you in pretty good stead.
Natasha tells me that many good law schools no longer provide class rank for their students. Is the same mechanism at work here, with many people chasing after a few hard-to-get plum jobs? Can you think of other examples where the principle of deliberately ambiguous rankings applies? Can this rationalize grade inflation?