So, everyone knows that good grades in high school is important for college admissions. But there’s way more to that transcript that admissions officers look for than just a student’s grades.
First, let’s review what’s on the high school transcript. It’s a copy of your teenager’s permanent academic record, and includes:
- courses taken from all schools the student has attended
- dates each course was taken during each semester (or trimester)
- codes that indicate the difficulty level of the course (college prep)
- college courses, if taken
- grades for each course
- grade point average (GPA)
- ACT, SAT, AP test scores (+ sometimes state exam scores)
The transcript is the very first thing that admissions officers look at – and is the most closely scrutinized.
Sure, test scores, school activities and essays are important to colleges when considering students for admissions. But the most revealing document that’s out there is the transcript. It shows how a student has challenged himself (or not) and how he’s excelled in coursework (or slacked off).
Colleges want to admit students who go above and beyond and challenge themselves. That starts with the types courses they’re taking, the difficuly of each course and the grades they receive in those courses.
Your teen should be taking this very seriously in high school, starting as a freshman.
Let’s take a look at what your teen should know about making the best impression possible here by understanding what matters most on the transcript.
1) Do more than necessary for graduation.
The minimum course load students are required to take for high school graduation consists of:
- 4 years of math
- 4 years of history
- 4 years of English
- 4 years of science
- 2 years of foreign language
Every single student who applies to college will have this exact coursework under their belts. Getting into college means standing out from other students, so it’s important for your teen to differentiate in this area and go beyond the basic requirements.
Your teen can beef up the transcript first by increasing that foreign language requirement to all 4 years.
Maybe your kid can also consider taking 3 years of a lab science rather than just 2.
If your teen’s doing the bare minimum, colleges take notice. He’s compared to students who’ve done more than he has in high school, so guide him to go above the expected to impress admissions.
2) Take a tougher course load.
Not only does your teen need to do his best to maintain good grades keep that GPA as high as possible, but he should also challenge himself with tougher courses than the general track. College officials notice whether there are higher-level subjects on the transcript.
This means taking the highest level courses offered at the high school, such as honors, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.
Admissions officers know that the more challenging courses help students to acquire the learning skills they need in college and that it prepares them for the more rigorous curriculum they’ll encounter, and so that naturally fits with what they’re looking for in a student who attends their college.
3) Continue to improve throughout high school.
College admissions folks look holistically at each student’s high school transcript. Most colleges will consider your teenager’s performance in more challenging courses, like honors and AP, as the strongest sign of his ability to do well in college.
Even if your teen struggled early in high school, though, officers will look favorably on strong improvement over previous years.
It’s good to know, too, that if there’s a personal issue during high school that radically and negatively affects your teen’s grades, such as a death in the family or divorce, college admissions officers should know about it as an explanation for a dip in grades at any point. There’s an opportunity for your teen to explain this in the college essay on the application or within the application itself.
Colleges actively seek out students who go above and beyond what’s required. They want students with drive and determination to exceed expectations and test their capabilities.
Talk with your teen early on about what admissions officers are looking for in order to outperform other prospective college students and get his application noticed!
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