Dana Brandt: There's something rotten about ranking students

You're scrolling through Facebook and see a link to an article entitled, "The 10 Best Movies of the Summer."

You turn on the TV and see that a football team just upset the No. 1 team in the country.

Someone asks you your favorite songs and you list your top five.

A ranking system is an easy way to compare things, but should it be used on students?

About halfway through 11th grade, I was called into my counselor's office for my mandatory junior meeting. I knew it was coming and what it was going to be about, but I didn't realize the weight that the things discussed would hold. This was the meeting that would bring all my thoughts about high school into sharp focus; in that little office, I was given my class rank.


I finally knew how I measured up against the rest of my grade, and I was not happy. I left the counseling office feeling dejected and determined to work harder; I could take more AP classes or give up my open hour, anything to make my class rank higher.

While this attitude would be a positive one for some, it was definitely not what I needed at that point in my school year. I was currently juggling an ambitious class load, club swimming, and orchestra, and I was exhausted. This was my limit, yet I felt like if I didn't push harder, my future would be in shambles.

Throughout the following weeks, rumors started traveling up the AP-class grapevine. "I heard that so-and-so was number one," someone would say. "No, it can't be, he got a B in freshman bio," someone else would reply. "How is that person ahead of me? I'm way smarter than her!" we'd say.

Suddenly our classmates became opponents, obstacles standing between us and higher education. I became a very negative person in those weeks, knowing that others' failures meant my success.

As going to college has started to become the norm for high school graduates, universities have been raising their standards. To get into the University of Wisconsin–Madison, all my mom had to do was be in the top half of her graduating class. Now UW–Madison accepts 48 percent of applicants, according to their admissions presentations, and that's barely scratching the surface of the college acceptance competition.

This is why being a high schooler today is more difficult that it has been in years; colleges expect more, so we have to comply. The result is a "Hunger Games"-esque competition for the most A's, the most extracurriculars, the most AP classes, and suddenly it's 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night and you realize that you're going to have to pull an all-nighter.

Our entire personalities are broken down into numbers: amount of credits, GPA, years of NHS participation, ACT and SAT scores, quantity of recommendation letters, and we send these figures off to colleges with the hope that we did enough, that we have high enough numbers. With stats like professional athletes, we pray that we will get drafted.

If you were to ask one of today's overachieving teenagers if they feel confident in their numbers, chances are that they'd say no. Something can always be better, a score can always be higher. If you're in the top 10 percent, top five is even better. High school has now become the biggest game students have ever played, and we better make sure our stats are up.

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