SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What Is a Salutatorian? High School’s Second-Highest Honor

body-graduation-speech-md-duranAcademics and athletics have a lot in common: they require tons of practice, dedication, and diligence to succeed. Athletes often get trophies, medals, and letterman jackets to reward them for their accomplishments on the field and in the gym.

But earning great grades can be just as tough as winning a state football tournament! That’s why many schools choose to honor their top two graduates by awarding them the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian.

We’ve already covered what a valedictorian is in another post, so in this article, we’ll answer all of your questions about salutatorians, including:

  • What is a salutatorian?
  • Does being a salutatorian help you get into college?
  • What is a salutatorian speech?
  • How do you become a salutatorian?

Are you ready to learn more about what it means to be the salutatorian of your graduating class? Then let’s get started!

Feature image by M.D. Duran


What Is a Salutatorian?

The meaning of the term “salutatorian” dates back to 1841 and means “of the nature of a salutation.” More specifically, the term originally referred to “the welcoming address given at a college commencement,” which was delivered in Latin!

Things have obviously changed a bit since then. (Thankfully!) First, salutatorians are now more commonly seen in high schools instead of colleges. But what is a salutatorian, exactly?

The honor of salutatorian is given to the student who ranks second-highest in the school behind the valedictorian, who graduates at the very top of the class. Like valedictorians, salutatorians are most often awarded the honor based on their cumulative GPA. In general, the student with the highest cumulative GPA in a graduating class becomes the valedictorian. That means that the student with the second-highest cumulative GPA becomes the salutatorian!

Second, the title of salutatorian recognizes student’s exemplary academic work, and as a result, they are asked to give a speech to open the graduation ceremony. While the salutatorian definitely gives a speech, it is not in Latin. (Now you can breathe a sigh of relief!)  As the name implies, salutatorians deliver a “salutatory,” or welcoming, speech that welcomes everyone to the ceremony, recognizes important guests, and delivers a hopeful, welcoming message on behalf of their fellow classmates.


body-grad-jump-matthew-t-raderPhoto by Matthew T. Rader


Does Being a Salutatorian Help You Get Into College?

f you’re thinking about trying to become your school’s salutatorian, that means you’re already an academically competitive person that’s looking to get into a top university.

We know it might be tempting to try to become the valedictorian or salutatorian of your class in order to help you get into the college of your dreams. Unfortunately, becoming salutatorian doesn’t really make a difference in terms of college admissions. Honestly, the reason is mostly a logistical one: the distinction of salutatorian is conferred toward the end of your senior year, long after you’ve already submitted your college applications!

Additionally, even if you were awarded the title on time, it can be hard for universities to understand what the honor of salutatorian means in terms of your school. Because the title can be more—or less!—prestigious based on your high school graduating class size and the school’s unique salutatorian criteria (more on that later), it’s not a good benchmark for determining how you stack up to other applicants. Ultimately, your transcript and GPA—more so than your class rank—tell admissions counselors what they need to know.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways becoming a salutatorian helps you in the college admissions process.

First off, becoming your school’s salutatorian takes hard work. That means you’ve become self-motivated, learned how to study, been an excellent student, and embraced hard work. You’ve also figured out how to manage a busy schedule and still excel! These are all critical skills to excelling in college, too. You’ll be ready to hit the ground running from your first day, and you won’t struggle to adjust to college’s increased workload like your peers might.

Secondly, salutatorians qualify for unique scholarship opportunities. Many scholarships still accept applications after you’ve already chosen your university. Graduating with top honors will help your application move to the top of the stack. Moreover, there are some scholarships that are only available to valedictorians and salutatorians! You can find a list of those unique scholarship opportunities here.

Lastly, being salutatorian can help you as you look for jobs and internships. Remember, you’re going to college with a bigger goal in mind: getting a job! Internships can be just as competitive as college admissions, if not more so because the spots are much more limited. Companies often only take a handful of interns in every class even though they receive tens of thousands of applications. (Nike only accepts 40 interns a year!)

So while being a salutatorian might not matter for admissions, it can have a huge impact on your opportunities long after high school.



How Do You Become a Salutatorian?

Like we mentioned earlier, in most cases the designation of salutatorian is determined by your cumulative GPA.

To calculate your cumulative GPA, your numerical GPA in each class is added together, and the average is ranked against your fellow classmates. Additionally, schools often work from your weighted GPA. That means that AP and IB courses are assigned “extra points” to offset their difficulty (which is why many students who take college prep courses graduate with higher than a 4.0.) Traditionally, the two students with the highest weighted cumulative GPAs are awarded the distinctions of valedictorian and salutatorian (in that order).

But keep in mind that each school handles salutatorian criteria differently! Some schools tackle the process like college admissions and look at a student’s GPA along with their extracurricular participation and community service hours. Other schools even allow students to cast votes for both valedictorian and salutatorian.

Regardless of your school’s criteria, we think aiming for valedictorian or salutatorian is an excellent goal, so here are four tips for earning one of high school’s top academic honors.

#1: Know the Criteria

Since this differs from school to school, it’s super important that you know exactly how your school determines who becomes salutatorian. For example, Sheboygan Lutheran High School uses a combination of cumulative GPA, number of college prep courses, and ACT test scores to select a valedictorian and salutatorian. That’s much different than Edsel Ford High School, which only considers a student’s cumulative GPA and behavior record.

#2: Take Weighted Classes

AP and IB classes are important if you’re considering attending a competitive college, but they’re also critical to becoming salutatorian. Because you’re awarded “extra points” to your GPA, earning high marks in weighted classes gives you an edge over students who opt for a general curriculum. But be careful not to overextend yourself! It’s most important that you earn top marks in all of your classes, whether they’re college prep courses or not.

#3: Ask for Help

One of the big mistakes students make is that they don’t ask for help when they get confused. Since it’s important that you do well in all of your classes, make sure you’re talking to your teacher or tutor if there are concepts you don’t understand. An added bonus? This is a really important skill to have when you go to college! If you get comfortable asking for help now, it will make your college life that much easier.

#4: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

It’s easy to let your competitive streak get out of hand when aiming for your school’s top honors. But the more time you spend worrying about other people’s grades, the less time you’re focusing on your own academic journey. So stay focused on working hard and doing your best, and let the rankings take care of themselves. Remember: even if you don’t become salutatorian, you’ll still have learned skills along the way that will make you more successful in college.


Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov


What Is a Salutatorian Speech?

So you’ve worked crazy hard and become your class’ salutatorian. Congratulations! Now it’s time for you to write a salutatorian speech.

Salutatorian speeches are basically comprised of three different parts: welcoming people to the ceremony, acknowledging honored guests, and celebrating the accomplishments of your classmates.

When you think about welcoming people to the ceremony, try to remember a time you felt welcome in a strange situation. What did people say to you? How did they make you feel important and like part of the group? Thinking about this might help you phrase your welcome so that the audience feels both acknowledged and included.

Your second task in this section of your speech is to speak on behalf of your classmates. They don’t have a microphone and you do, so it’s important that you acknowledge the people who are attending the ceremony who’ve helped them on their journey. For example, people that fit in this category are family members, teachers, coaches, friends, and mentors!

In this portion, you want to be both inclusive and brief. It might be a good idea to ask your classmates who they plan to bring with them to the ceremony. Their answers might surprise you, and they’ll help you make sure you include everyone in your opening remarks. You might also think about the people who are important to your classmates who couldn’t make it to the ceremony because of distance, illness, or death. Acknowledging them can be a lovely way of supporting your friends and classmates.

The second part of your speech should acknowledge distinguished and honored guests. Make sure to talk with your principal or guidance counselor to get a list of these people. Most often, these are other participants in the ceremony, like the school’s superintendent or members of the school board. In most cases, if someone is sitting on stage, they’ll need to be welcomed individually.

Talking to your school administrators about your speech is also important because you might have to follow a certain protocol. For example, your school might want you to read the person’s name and pause for a moment, which gives the person a chance to stand up and receive applause. Knowing this in advance will help you write a speech that stays within the ceremony’s time limits!

The last part of your salutatorian speech gives you the chance to speak to your classmates and celebrate their achievements. This is a big day in everyone’s lives, and you get to be the person who makes them feel special. Congratulate them! Acknowledge their hard work and achievements, no matter how big or small.

Additionally, might consider sharing a few lessons that you’ve learned in your own high school journey during this section.  What will you take away from your years in school that will stick with you for the rest of your life? What do you hope your classmates take with them, too?

But most importantly, have fun. Don’t be afraid to tell a story or share a joke that your classmates will love. Embrace the moment! This is your reward for four years of hard work, so make it count.


body-graduate-dab-honey-yanibel-minaya-cruzPhoto by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz


Do All Schools Have Salutatorians?

Becoming valedictorian or salutatorian has long been a way to reward academic achievement, but as society changes, so have the standards for awarding top marks.

For instance, you might go to your guidance counselor’s office and be shocked to learn that your school doesn’t award the titles of valedictorian or salutatorian! More and more schools are doing away with ranked academic honors in order to help students focus on their education, not a ranking.

According to Bob Farrace, the spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, administrators “worry about the college prospects of students separated by large differences in class rank despite small differences in their GPAs, and view rankings as obsolete in an era of high expectations for every student.” In other words, some educators believe that singling out the two top-performing students adversely affects the student body.

But other schools have gone in the opposite direction and are now using the terms “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” to honor all high-achieving students. South Medford High School decided to name every student with a 4.0 GPA a class valedictorian. That means that there were 21 valedictorians in the Class of 2013! Other schools have followed suit in an effort to create a sense of camaraderie and collaboration around high school academics.

But regardless of whether your school has salutatorians or not, one thing remains true: working hard in school will help you achieve your goals in college, in your career,  and beyond.


What's Next?



Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!

author image
Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at, allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!