Every high school in the U.S. is different, with different grading policies, class sizes, available courses, and more. With this great diversity of educational offerings and rules, you might be wondering: “How will colleges view my child’s high school transcript? How can my child get the best academic opportunities at his or her school?” These are important questions to ask, especially early on during your child’s high school experience.
Here are four steps to take to start the process of familiarizing yourself with your child’s high school transcript, as well as specific steps to help you understand how that high school transcript will be viewed during the college admissions process.
1. Get a copy of your high school’s “School Profile” and read it
Each high school is required to publish a school profile that details important academic information about the school. This report includes items like:
- The percentage of graduating students attending two-year or four-year institutions
- A complete list of all the courses offered at the school, including the advanced coursework options (typically, IB or AP classes)
- What constitutes “Full Rigor.” Each high school has a policy on what constitutes “Full Rigor” for a student. For example, at a school that offers the IB diploma, typically, only students who complete the IB diploma will get a mark from the guidance counselor that classifies them as “Full Rigor.” Students who take some IB classes, but earn no IB diploma, will receive the mark “Some Rigor.” This is an incredibly important distinction to colleges that are evaluating your child’s high school transcript.
- Whether or not AP courses are capped: some high schools restrict their students to no more than 2-3 AP classes per year, and it’s important to know early on if your high school is one of them.
2. Know what your “Outside of School” coursework options are, as well as how your school counselor handles those in your transcript and GPA calculation
“Outside of School” coursework options typically include:
a) Online courses
Many students will take online courses over the summer to supplement their high school education. Sometimes this can take the form of remedial classes. For example, if a student receives a C in Algebra I and then takes Algebra I again during the summer and gets an A, one of three things can happen: 1) the school can eliminate the original C on the transcript, replace it with the A, and factor the A into the calculated GPA; 2) the school can report both the original C as well as the A on the transcript, but only take the A into consideration when calculating the GPA; or 3) the school can choose to ignore the summer class, and only keep the C on the transcript.
Another time when knowing how a high school handles online coursework is important is when students supplement their high school classes with additional (not remedial) courses. Before your child takes a new online course (say, through BYU or Florida Virtual School or Johns Hopkins’ AP classes), ask your school guidance counselor if the school will add it to the transcript. It’s possible that the school will add certain courses already approved by the state, but not others – so make sure you choose courses that are accepted by the school, and that will be added to the transcript.
b) Community college courses
Another great summer option for some students can be taking an interesting course at a local community college. Just like with online courses, however, it’s important to ask ahead of time how your child’s high school will handle summer coursework. Will the community college class be added to the high school transcript? Or will the student need to submit two transcripts (one from the high school and one from the community college) when applying to college? In this case, neither option is better than the other, but it’s still important to know ahead of time what the expectation will be.
Later on in the process, once your child has finalized his or her college list, it’s important to learn how each college will process the transcript. Each college typically publishes information about how they will evaluate a student’s GPA. The classic example is the University of California system, which asks students to enter in the grades they received in each specified category – labeled A through G (https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/admission-requirements/freshman-requirements/gpa-requirement.html) – and then entirely recalculates each student’s GPA based on the UC standards, which do not take into account elective courses like Culinary Arts and include the UC system’s own criteria for what counts as an advanced course. All this is to say that a student who has a 3.8 weighted GPA at their local high school could easily end up with a 3.5 GPA based on the UC way of calculating GPA. The University of California system is the most extreme example, but each college has its own set of criteria and rules for handling GPA, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with the differences early on so that you’re not surprised.
4. Ask the guidance counselor how your child will be viewed within the context of their high school
Ultimately, colleges will be evaluating a student within the context of their high school. If the school offers two AP classes, and your child takes 2/2, that would be considered taking advantage of 100% of the school’s academic opportunities. If the school offers five AP classes, and your child takes 2/5, that would not be considered taking advantage of 100% of the school’s academic opportunities – even though both students took two AP classes each. This context matters. So it’s a good idea to talk to your high school counselor about how your child’s transcript looks within the context of the opportunities that the school offers.