Valedictorian vs. Salutatorian: What’s the Difference?

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High school is many a student’s first foray into the more demanding school life, where teachers and counselors will begin to recommend not just passing your classes but working hard for high grades, joining the honors programs, and even participating in extra activities like joining clubs or being a part of the greater student body. Students who achieve these statuses and so much more will earn fancy titles like valedictorian and salutatorian, becoming the best and brightest examples of their class. They will leave high school a successful student, having proven their academic potential.

But what is a valedictorian? What is a salutatorian? Is there any difference between the two? Here in this article, we will teach you about these prestigious titles, what it will take to earn them, and where it will take you after you finish high school and attain that diploma!

What Does it Mean to be Valedictorian of Your Class?What Does it Mean to be Valedictorian of Your Class?

High schools encourage students to achieve high academic careers, work their hardest to get good grades, and get into even the best colleges in the country and other post-secondary institutions.

The student who completes their high school curriculum with the highest cumulative GPA (or grade point average) becomes their school’s valedictorian (which is Latin for “to say farewell”). Being valedictorian is considered a prestigious position for any student, indicating that their academic prowess is beyond their entire school year. The position often means extraordinary things for their students. Students who have become valedictorians typically lead strong academic lives or careers afterward. For example, did you know that actors Jodie Foster and “Weird Al” Yankovic were valedictorians of their high school?

Valedictorians enjoy many benefits that celebrate their success. They earn special robes decorated to make them stand out from the rest of their peers when it is time to graduate. While there are not many benefits to the act of becoming a valedictorian, the road to such a prestigious title will give the student brand new opportunities, such as graduating with honors and having an impressive enough transcript to get into high-ranked colleges and earn valuable scholarships. Finally, a valedictorian will earn a gold medal by the end of their ceremony and likely speak on their experiences and for the class. The going away ceremony for a valedictorian is a formality and a thank you for an entire high school curriculum of hard work. If you are someone who worked to be valedictorian, you have put in a substantial amount of work for that title alone.

Being valedictorian means being at the top of your class, the best of the best. However, there is a place for second place, and that is the salutatorian. But what does a salutatorian imply against a valedictorian, and is it work getting?

What Exactly Does Salutatorian Imply?

What Exactly Does Salutatorian Imply?

The salutatorian is a close second place to the valedictorian. However, do not mistake being a salutatorian as an inferior, less hard-working, or less prestigious student! First Lady to President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, was the salutatorian of her high school. She lived a fulfilling life as the First Lady and helped the people of America.

The student with the second-highest accreditation in their class, behind the valedictorian, will become the salutatorian. While they have put in just as much effort as the valedictorian, their efforts come up second. However, as we’ve stated before, being second-place in a class of likely hundreds of students is a great accomplishment. The salutatorian is still expected to achieve great things in their future and additional benefits.

Similar to the valedictorian, the salutatorian enjoys a prestigious ceremony by the end of their time in high school. The salutatorian will speak first to open the graduation ceremony (as opposed to the valedictorian, who gets to close the ceremony). These graduation speeches will usually involve discussing the growth and progress that all students–not just the most successful–have gone through and give an optimistic outlook toward the future. By the time of the ceremony, the salutatorian will also receive unique robes and regalia to signify their accomplishments and a silver medal to cap off their experience.

We have noted what these two prestigious positions mean to students and faculty, but how are they chosen? What makes a person valedictorian or salutatorian material?

How are Valedictorians Chosen vs. Salutatorians?

How are Valedictorians Chosen vs. Salutatorians?

Valedictorians and salutatorians are typically decided in the second semester of their senior year. Senior year is typically when the student is going to graduate from their class (although some academically inclined students may graduate earlier), leaving little room for error if the student ends their semester not achieving the prerequisite grades. Additionally, being in the second semester means the student is completing their final classes. Schools track their current progress to make sure they are a suitable candidate.

As for how the two positions differ: valedictorians have the highest grades in their graduation year–this does not mean just getting As in every of their core classes, but getting the highest grades in their electives as well. Some schools weigh grade point averages differently, and instead of a 4.0 GPA for students, those who achieve exceptionally high marks maintain a 5.0 average. It is also required that a valedictorian is a student that takes additional extracurricular activities, such as joining clubs, assisting the school in manners beyond taking classes like speaking for the school, joining the honors program, and taking the higher level AP and IB classes that demand from its students higher level learning and academic prowess.

The salutatorian has the second highest grades in their graduation year. However, they are given nearly as high expectations as the valedictorian. The salutatorian GPA requirements are fundamentally the same as the valedictorian requirements. Indeed, it will be apparent to any student and teacher that the only real difference between these two titles will be not the students’ academic prowess but how willing and able they are to become valedictorian. A potential valedictorian will simply outpace their competitor in every way, but most notably in the extra work into getting the valedictorian status. You can become a salutatorian simply by working your hardest, but being a valedictorian means working even harder than everyone else who wants to be a valedictorian.

We have described the different ways that being a valedictorian and salutatorian means. That is just in high school, the processes of becoming so. Do these titles matter? What will being a valedictorian or salutatorian matter once you are far away from high school?

Does Being Valedictorian or Salutatorian Matter?

Does Being Valedictorian or Salutatorian Matter?

Being a valedictorian or salutatorian is an incredible honor for high school. When you leave the ceremony to go home to your proud parents and your high school diploma, you will feel like the most accomplished student in the world. But what do these titles mean for students outside of high school?

There is, of course, no guarantee that becoming a valedictorian or salutatorian means you are a success beyond high school, much like how not having those positions does not mean you will live an unfulfilling life. In truth, for many colleges and post-secondary schools, the title and the regalia and medals do not have much weight, partially due to how much high schools may weigh the title. Some schools, for example, may grant you valedictorian or salutatorian status solely on your GPA.

In contrast, others require much extra effort and extracurricular material before they even look at you. For colleges and other groups, the variation means that the title is not itself an indicator of success. For groups outside of college, especially those not academic institutions, these titles mean even less—they would value college education more than your gold medal.

These college institutions will not put much weight on the title “valedictorian.” Still, they will see your very high GPA, honors credit, and extracurricular activities, which, much like being valedictorian, will give you an edge over your competitors and better ensure that you win those applications. However, do remember that in most cases, earning these titles will require significant academic achievement.

Regardless of what people think of the title, gaining it will assuredly be backed by a student who has put a lot of time and effort into their academic success. If you want to earn these titles, you will have to work hard, but it will be worth it, even if it doesn’t get you into your dream college! Many understand what being valedictorian or salutatorian means to a student, but more importantly, you know what it means.

Wrapping Things Up: Valedictorian vs. Salutatorian: What’s the Difference?

So now that we have finished this article what is the difference between being a valedictorian vs. salutatorian? To put it simply, there is none! They are both highly accredited statuses for hard-working and educated students who give to leave their high school life behind in a fancy flourish. The only difference is how much one came up on top of the other. But either party will see their efforts rewarded. If you want to become a valedictorian or salutatorian, you can do it if you put your mind to it!

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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