PCP: Against Rankings

Hasan Ahmed - 2N Nanotechnology
Posted on: February 21, 2018

Ah rankings, what I believe are one of the most toxic parts of an academic system. They serve very little purpose, and I don’t believe we should even have them to be honest (at least, publicly). Never had them in high school and that wasn’t an issue. Especially now in Waterloo, there’s no reason for a ranking to imply that you’re “better” than another person. Try telling your next interviewer that you made Dean’s Honours List (DHL); it won’t impress them as much as saying you have research experience or programming co-ops at Facebook or whatever. Why do we still have them? It’s not even as big deal as it seems to be. Let me preface this PCP by saying hey, if you’ve got good marks and made DHL or whatever, be proud of what you’ve done. But I’m also saying don’t use it as your solo indicator and belittle others or feel overconfident. Besides, your actual marks are probably a better indicator. A 90 average is pretty impressive, but between terms, that could be a #1 rank or a #12 rank.

I’ll get the obvious stuff out of the way as to why I think we should abolish the ranking system. Your ranking doesn’t determine how smart you are, and frankly, neither does your grade. It’s good to keep up your grades for a variety of reasons (eg. grad school, scholarships, personal achievement, etc.) but that just means that your rank is a by-product of your marks. It’s hard to shoot for #1 in the class or to make DHL; everything you do from the point of the semester’s beginning will impact the result, adding enormous pressure on the student. That’s why my advice is to just focus on your grades and do the best you can. Your rank will be a by-product of your marks.

Speaking of pressure, Waterloo’s reputation for this isn’t exactly unknown, especially when it comes to mental health. We have tons of responsibilities: work for your next co-op, get good grades/side projects so you can nail the interview, then for co-op you have to search for a sublet, work term reports, the list goes on. I can only imagine someone dealing with all this stress finding out that they’re close to the bottom of the class. There’s a difference between “I got a 60% average” and “I got a 60% average and I’m ranked 80/100.” It inputs the thought of 79 people being better than you. On the opposite side; if someone’s high up they can build an ego. LUCKILY, I’ve never experienced this personally, but just a heads up you’re not better than anyone because you made DHL. Good for you, now move on. We already get a bad enough rep for being cocky engineers. On a less salty note, you might be trying to graduate on DHL, which means at least two terms on DHL in your last six terms, adding pressure to make it to that top echelon of your class yet again. But hey, on the plus side, if you’re #1 you get $400. So you know, go for that if that’s your game.

Besides, I think without standard deviations for the class average, the whole ranking system is thrown off. People with 1% average differences might be 10 spots apart, so the grade’s obviously a better indicator of how they did. Again, at a school where people pretty much carve their own paths, a 10-rank difference literally means nothing. If you have an 80 average and are ranked 50/100, let’s say, but the standard deviation is puny, and the person 10 spots above you has an 80.9, then you know it’s not a big deal. It’s comforting to know that it was a tight ranking. I did an experiment; I emailed all the profs after marks were made official and asked for some standard deviations and class averages. Of the responses that I got, the class averages were pretty decent, and the standard deviations were fairly small. I used this data to extrapolate these course averages to the class average, and by purely just “looking at it and drawing a conclusion”, the class standard deviation isn’t that big. So care about your marks, not the rank (something I’m going to preach until the end of time).

But still, I don’t think they should be released at all. I think the people who made DHL should be privately contacted and the person who made the 1st place rank should also be rewarded the money privately. It makes more sense to me. 4th year rankings aren’t released at the request of the departments, so why is it any different for the lower years? Probably the only reason we would need them at the 4th year point would be for graduate school applications. Via the UWaterloo website, “A faculty member completing a recommendation letter has access to the rank through the undergraduate office in that department. The faculty member can provide the interpretation of a fourth-year rank.”

I’d like to stress again that you should care about your marks. Whether it be you wanting to just pass or do really well, take care of them and be passionate about what you want. Live your life or something, you know how to do it better than me. However, I’m pretty openly anti-rank as you can tell, so don’t be so harsh on yourself if it isn’t what you want. Just do your best.

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