Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥


Last updated March 5, 2024

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

How to Become Valedictorian (and is it worth it?)

Key Takeaway

Becoming valedictorian is a significant achievement, but it requires a lot of work and can impact your mental health. While it can definitely boost your admission chances, it's not always necessary—strong academics and standout extracurriculars can be enough, even without that #1 ranking.

As a high school student, you probably feel a lot of pressure to rank at the top of your class.

But saying you want to be top-ranked and actually becoming valedictorian are two completely different things.

So how do you become valedictorian? And is the effort, stress, and time commitment actually worth it for college admissions?

Let’s get into it.

How to Become Valedictorian

First, let’s start off with some definitions.

A valedictorian is the student with the highest academic achievement in a class. If your school doesn’t use weighted GPAs or class rank, you may have multiple valedictorians. If your school does use weighted GPAs and assign class rank, then the valedictorian will be the person with the highest grades and most course rigor (things like AP, IB, and dual-enrollment courses).

Following the valedictorian, you have the salutatorian—the student who ranks second highest in the class.

Being valedictorian is generally considered to be a great academic achievement because it means that, relative to your peers, you’ve taken the hardest classes and performed the best in them.

What it takes to become a valedictorian will vary by school. If the highest GPA in your school is a 3.5, then you probably won’t necessarily need a 4.0 to be valedictorian.

But, in general, all of this means that to be valedictorian, you probably have to…

  • Take the most rigorous course pathway at your school.
  • Earn a perfect 4.0 GPA (or the highest weighted GPA relative to your peers).

If you go to an extra competitive school with weighted GPAs, you may also have to take on additional rigorous courses to have the highest GPA.

Becoming Valedictorian is a Lot of Work

Being valedictorian is a nice honor, but it’s also a lot of work. A lot. Especially if you go to a competitive school.

So is all that time, effort, and sacrifice worth it? Is there a substantial difference between being ranked 1% versus 2%, 3%, or even 5% in class?

Well, that depends on what your goal is.

When I get asked this question, I know that the student’s ultimate concern is whether all the effort they’ve exerted will eventually pay off in securing them a spot at their dream college.

But there’s also the big (and very important) consideration of happiness and mental health.

Students who achieve valedictorian status have often done so at the expense of time with friends and family, sleep and rest, and maybe even their health and happiness.

Of course, not all valedictorians have to sacrifice for their achievements. But for most students, it’s a delicate balancing act.

So, does being valedictorian help in admissions?

Like many things in college admissions, it depends.

But in general, there is no colossal difference in being ranked first, second, third, or even fifth in your class. This fact is even more accurate if you go to a competitive high school where lots of top-tier students eventually attend selective colleges.

That’s because admissions officers review applications by looking at what are called “school groups.” Admissions officers are generally assigned to a specific territory, so they’re familiar with all the high schools in their territory. When they read applications, they tend to group the applicants by school. That means that when an admissions officer reads your application, they’re reading it alongside applications from other students at your high school.

If you go to a more competitive high school where lots of students take rigorous courses and earn high GPAs, then admissions officers at highly selective will usually dip “deeper” into the class—they’ll be more likely to admit students in the top 5%, for example, rather than just the top 2%.

Don’t get me wrong. Being valedictorian can definitely help your chances, especially at schools with low acceptance rates. But in these cases, being valedictorian isn’t necessarily required to get into a top school. Exceptional academic performance is required, but oftentimes you don’t have to be exactly #1.

It’s not all about your grades.

Keep in mind that outstanding academic performance can open the door to potential admission opportunities, but it's not the only thing admissions officers look at.

College admission officers also put a lot of weight on the “softer” parts of your application—your essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters.

I've witnessed numerous cases where students with remarkable, albeit not perfect, academic credentials stood out because of their exceptional extracurricular activities and were admitted over valedictorians. So being a valedictorian won’t automatically guarantee you admission, either!

In short, being a valedictorian can help your case, but it alone isn’t enough to get you into the accepted pile.

Balancing time and mental health with academics

Nothing is more valuable than your health. The pressure that you, your parents, or your school impose on you can take a severe toll on your well-being. You should prioritize self-care and wellness above all.

For some students, becoming valedictorian while maintaining their health and outside commitments is feasible. But for the majority, this is not the case. That's perfectly fine.

Try to find a balance between rigorous academics, good grades, extracurricular activities, and downtime to unwind and enjoy the company of friends and family. It’s challenging but not impossible. Staying on top of your high school timeline and setting realistic goals can help you strike the right balance.

The truth is, not everyone can be a valedictorian. But not being valedictorian doesn’t mean that you’ll be unsuccessful in college admissions or life. In fact, beyond high school, nobody pays attention to whether you were a valedictorian. Remember, it's your ability to find a balance, challenge yourself, and maintain your well-being that leads to success in admissions and life.


Becoming a valedictorian involves earning the highest academic achievement in your class, and it often requires significant effort, time, and stress. While being valedictorian can boost your admission chances, being top-ranked isn't always necessary for acceptance into top schools. Admissions officers also value 'softer' aspects like essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendation letters—you need them in addition to strong grades. Moreover, the pressure to be a valedictorian can impact your mental health. You should prioritize wellness, balance, and self-challenge for success in admissions and life.

Liked that? Try this next.