Preparing Your Application I: Transcripts

A transcript is a record of the courses you’ve taken in high school and the grades you’ve received in those courses. When an admissions counselor says “transcript,” most students jump right to thinking about their GPA—and while it’s included on your transcript (if your school calculates one), it’s not the whole story. Selective colleges look at the whole record of courses you’ve taken and all of your high school grades over time. As we look at your transcript, we consider a lot of factors—have you taken the kind of challenging courses necessary to be successful at a more rigorous school and done well in those courses? Have you explored a broad variety of subjects or focused on a particular academic passion? If you struggled initially in a class year or in a subject, did you adjust and do better in following semesters or years? All these questions—and more—can be answered by your transcript and are things admissions counselors consider when looking through it.

Some colleges will request a document called a Secondary School Report and a School Profile with your transcript. This is like a map key—it will help admissions counselors know what kinds of courses are available at your school, what your school’s grading scale looks like, what AP/IB/honors/advanced options your school may offer, whether or not your school has a weighted or unweighted GPA or no GPA at all, and many other pieces of useful information. Admissions counselors will use this document to help evaluate your performance in the context of your school curriculum and environment. It helps us determine if you’ve taken advantage of the most rigorous options that have been available to you, and are doing well in those options, so that we feel confident you’ll be ready to engage in a rigorous college curriculum.

We’ll know from this document, for example, if your school only offers two honors-designated classes, and so we’ll be able to tell that you taking those two classes is considered the highest challenge in the context of your high school. Don’t worry about the student across town who might have taken three, but whose School Profile, in turn, might show us that her school offers 26 honors classes, making it seem like she might not be challenging herself as much as she could. Your school profile might have a grade distribution noting that nobody got an A in Honors 11th Grade Chemistry last year, making your B+ look pretty stellar in context.

Requesting Your Transcript

It’s important to provide your high school or college counselor with plenty of advance notice when asking for a transcript to be sent as part of your application. Your school may have policies regarding this, so make sure to check in with the school or college counselor at your school to learn the procedure. If your school does not have guidelines for requesting transcripts, we advise you ask for transcripts no less than four weeks in advance of an institution’s application deadline. You may need to send an email to your counselor, put your name and number of requests on a list in the counseling office, or input the schools to which you’re applying into an online management system like Naviance or Coalition Portfolio. Your counselor may be working with hundreds of students, so don’t assume your school will automatically know exactly where you’ll need your materials to go, or that they can provide you multiple transcripts without advance notice—it’s important to follow their preferred procedure. Your counselor will also let you know if your transcript can be submitted electronically or if it will need to be mailed. If it must be sent by paper mail, make sure to provide your counselor with stamped envelopes addressed to each school you’re applying to so everything winds up in the right place.

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