Graduating as the valedictorian of your high school class is one of the highest academic achievements a student can attain. Being named valedictorian means you achieved the top grades in your graduating class. But just how common is it for a high school to have a valedictorian?

If you’re looking for a quick answer, research shows that most U.S. high schools name a valedictorian, but the exact number per school varies greatly.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore how many valedictorians there are in U.S. high schools. We’ll look at the history of naming valedictorians, examine how prevalent the practice is today, and discuss factors that influence how many valedictorians a school confers.

The History and Meaning of Valedictorian

What Does It Mean to Be Valedictorian?

The title of valedictorian is one of the highest honors a high school student can achieve. It is awarded to the student with the highest academic standing in their graduating class. The word “valedictorian” itself comes from the Latin word “vale dicere,” which means “to say farewell.”

This reflects the role of the valedictorian in delivering a farewell speech at the graduation ceremony.

Being named valedictorian is not just about having the highest grades. It also requires demonstrating strong leadership skills, involvement in extracurricular activities, and a commitment to community service.

Valedictorians are often seen as role models by their peers, and their achievements inspire others to strive for academic excellence.

While the criteria for becoming valedictorian may vary from school to school, it typically involves maintaining a high grade point average and earning top marks in challenging courses. Some schools also consider factors such as class rank, standardized test scores, and the rigor of the student’s course load.

When Did Schools Start Naming Valedictorians?

The tradition of naming a valedictorian dates back to the early days of American education. It is believed to have originated in New England, where it was common for the top student in a graduating class to deliver a farewell address.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the importance of education grew, more high schools began adopting the practice of naming valedictorians. This was seen as a way to recognize and reward academic excellence and to inspire other students to strive for success.

Today, the title of valedictorian is still highly coveted and serves as a symbol of achievement for graduating students. It is a testament to their hard work, dedication, and intellectual prowess.

For more information on the history of valedictorians, you can visit

How Many U.S. High Schools Name Valedictorians

National Estimates

It is difficult to determine the exact number of U.S. high schools that name valedictorians. However, according to a study conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), it is estimated that approximately 65% of high schools in the United States still designate valedictorians.

This means that a significant majority of schools continue to recognize and honor their top-performing students.

The tradition of naming valedictorians dates back many years and is deeply ingrained in the American education system. It serves as a way to celebrate and showcase the achievements of students who have excelled academically throughout their high school years.

Variations by School Type and Location

The prevalence of valedictorians may vary depending on the type of high school and its location. Private schools, for example, are more likely to have valedictorians compared to public schools. This may be due to smaller class sizes and more focused academic programs.

Similarly, the presence of valedictorians can also vary by geographic location. Some states or regions may have a higher concentration of schools that name valedictorians, while others may have fewer. Factors such as educational policies, cultural norms, and the overall competitiveness of the school system can influence this variation.

It’s worth noting that not all schools follow the tradition of designating valedictorians. Some schools have opted for alternative methods of recognizing academic achievement, such as honoring the top percentage of students or implementing a cum laude system.

These approaches aim to create a more inclusive and less competitive environment, where multiple students can be recognized for their accomplishments.

Interested in learning more about high school valedictorians? Check out the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) website here for additional information.

Factors That Influence Number of Valedictorians

School Size

The size of a high school can greatly influence the number of valedictorians it produces. In larger schools with a larger student population, the competition for the top spot can be fierce, resulting in fewer valedictorians.

Conversely, smaller schools may have a higher number of valedictorians due to a smaller pool of students competing for the title.

Strictness of Grading

The strictness of grading policies can also play a role in determining the number of valedictorians. In schools with more lenient grading systems, where it is easier to achieve high grades, there may be a higher number of valedictorians.

On the other hand, schools with more rigorous grading standards may have fewer valedictorians, as it becomes more challenging to maintain a perfect GPA.

Weight Given to Advanced Classes

Many high schools offer advanced classes that provide students with an opportunity to earn higher grade point averages. The weight given to these advanced classes can impact the number of valedictorians.

If advanced classes are heavily weighted and students who take them have a significant advantage in GPA calculations, there may be a higher number of valedictorians. However, if advanced classes are not given much weight or are not available to all students, the number of valedictorians may be lower.

Policies on GPA Ties

When two or more students have the same GPA, some high schools have policies in place to break ties and determine the valedictorian. These policies can vary widely, and they can influence the number of valedictorians.

Some schools may have strict tie-breaking rules that result in only one valedictorian, while others may allow multiple students to share the title in the case of ties.

It’s important to note that the factors mentioned above can vary from school to school, and there is no standard formula for determining the number of valedictorians. Each high school has its own unique set of policies and practices that contribute to the selection process.

To gain a deeper understanding of how these factors influence the number of valedictorians, it is advisable to refer to reputable educational websites such as or

Controversies and Changes

Drawbacks of Valedictorian Culture

The valedictorian culture, while traditionally seen as a prestigious achievement, has not been without its fair share of controversies. One of the main drawbacks is the intense competition it fosters among students.

This competition often leads to a hyper-focus on grades rather than a holistic approach to education. Students may feel pressured to take on an unrealistic workload, sacrificing their mental well-being and extracurricular activities in the process.

Additionally, the emphasis on being the top student can create an unhealthy and stressful environment, negatively impacting the overall educational experience.

Furthermore, the valedictorian system can be seen as arbitrary and unfair. In some cases, students with near-perfect grades may miss out on the valedictorian title due to slight variations in grading systems or class availability.

This can lead to feelings of disappointment and injustice among students who have worked tirelessly to achieve academic excellence.

Another drawback is the potential for valedictorian culture to perpetuate the notion that success is solely determined by academic performance. This can overlook the importance of personal growth, character development, and other skills that may not be reflected in a student’s GPA.

It is essential to recognize and celebrate the diverse talents and achievements of all students, not just those who excel academically.

Alternatives Gaining Popularity

Recognizing these drawbacks, many educational institutions are reevaluating the valedictorian system and considering alternative methods to honor student achievement. One popular alternative gaining traction is the use of Latin honors, such as cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude.

These designations are often awarded based on a combination of academic performance and other factors, such as community service, leadership, or involvement in extracurricular activities. This approach allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of a student’s overall contribution to the school community.

Another alternative is the use of “class speakers” instead of a single valedictorian. Schools may select multiple students to deliver speeches at graduation, highlighting their unique perspectives and accomplishments.

This approach promotes inclusivity and recognizes the diverse talents and achievements of a graduating class.

Ultimately, the shift away from the strict valedictorian culture is a step towards creating a more balanced and supportive educational environment. By embracing alternatives that celebrate a wider range of achievements, schools are fostering a culture that values well-roundedness and personal growth alongside academic excellence.


Being named high school valedictorian is still considered one of the top academic achievements. But the practice of naming valedictorians has its share of controversies, and some schools are moving away from singling out just one top student.

While most U.S. secondary schools still name a valedictorian, the number per school varies greatly based on policies for how grades are weighted and how ties are handled. Typically, larger schools have more valedictorians, while smaller ones are more likely to have just one.

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