Is there a word in English to qualify the highest-ranked student in a class in a year?

We are talking here about higher education, especially in the context of curricula that keep a given set of students over the course of several years, being ranked at the end of each year, possibly with competitive admission for the following year. The ranking is a weighted average of all marks obtained over the year.

I am looking for a single word, or expression, to quickly designate the one student with the highest ranking. If there is no such thing in English, then let's try to get the most concise and idiomatic definition.

In all cases, it is not emotionally connoted, i.e. not pejorative nor bragging.

For French speakers: I am looking for the translation of “major de promotion”.

EDIT: additional, not as much of a pure “word request” question: is this anything you should mention on a curriculum vitæ in the English-speaking world? If so, please mention whether the given word is appropriate for such a use  :)

  • I'd say that pointing out that you are the top student is bragging no matter what word you use, but maybe that's just me being overly sensitive :P – Supr Aug 31 '12 at 12:54
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    When I was growing up, the best student in the class was called a swot.... though it was derogatory. Not sure where it came from though – Dan Hanly Aug 31 '12 at 13:19
  • @Supr Well, we're talking about a resume. I don't find it any more bragging than any other achievement. It is not the same as bringing it randomly in a conversation. I guess there's also a cultural thing in here, which is why I asked whether it was appropriate in the English-speaking world. This is definitely something you should mention on a French resume, along with your rank and honors. – MattiSG Aug 31 '12 at 14:44
  • @MattiSG Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you shouldn't mention it :) There's not necessarily anything wrong with bragging, sometimes it's appropriate, especially on your resume -- that's what it's for ;) – Supr Aug 31 '12 at 15:06
  • In a given subject area, but usually not a student, the term could be doyen meaning the most respected or prominent person in a particular field – bib Aug 31 '12 at 15:33

Valedictorian, but this is an American expression.

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    I'm British. I've never heard of it. – Andrew Leach Aug 31 '12 at 8:59
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    @Andrew: Just for the record, it's a very well-known term in the U.S., not obscure whatsoever. (Traditionally, the valedictorian gives a speech at high school commencement ceremonies.) And, in accordance with what the O.P. is asking for, it's considered neither pejorative nor braggadocio; it's a neutral term that could be inserted into a CV just fine – at least a CV for American eyes. – J.R. Aug 31 '12 at 9:23
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    I'm also British, and never heard it in Britain. It is definitely very US-centric. I would just say 'top of that class' or similar. – Roaring Fish Aug 31 '12 at 10:24
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    And salutatorian for the second-best, although this is less well-known. – Peter Shor Aug 31 '12 at 12:37
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    Are these terms still used if this tradition was not actually kept (i.e. the person was not actually invited to - or did not actually - give a speech at the commencement ceremony)? – Random832 Aug 31 '12 at 14:27

A word more likely to be familiar to British people is dux.

Collins says:

dux [dʌks] n (Social Science / Education) (in Scottish and certain other schools) the top pupil in a class or school [Latin: leader]

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    Never heard that one either! – Roaring Fish Aug 31 '12 at 10:24
  • dux does not seem really used in CVs. Yet the amount of upvotes is impressive! – MattiSG Aug 31 '12 at 14:37
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    Mmh, Oxford’s definition for dux: “a Saxon chief or leader”. I guess the (in Scottish and certain other schools) part mattered ;) – MattiSG Aug 31 '12 at 14:48
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    I (a Scot) used this word with an Australian colleague who immediately understood. Perhaps common in the Commonwealth? – codinghands Aug 31 '12 at 14:57
  • As a Brit from South East England, I have never heard this. Whereas "valedictorian" I know well, due to watching many US TV shows. (I'd never use "valedictorian" myself though.) – AndyT May 9 '18 at 11:30

Valedictorian is regularly found in CVs.


In US resumes for law students and lawyers, the person's placement in their law school class is often indicated by the term Class Standing, followed by a number looking like a ratio, e.g., 1/340, meaning the student ranked first in a class of 340. Also percentages are used, such as Top 1%.

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    Or Class Rank: 1/500 (or whatever the rank and class size is). That shows up on our local high school transcripts. Who is #1 can vary from year to year, too. – JLG Sep 4 '12 at 19:55

valedictorian /væl.ə.dɪktɔ.ri.ən/ /-tɔr.i-/ noun [ C ] US

a student, usually one who has been the most successful in a particular class, who makes a speech at a special ceremony at the end of a school year
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

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