The Importance of High School Transcripts
By Thomas Broderick
Picture your dream home. Maybe it’s a chateau in France or beachside in Malibu. Maybe you have a pool or personal movie theater. No matter your tastes or desires, though, your dream home has something in common with that of every other reader’s. Can you guess what it is? Okay, time’s up.
Everyone’s dream home has a solid foundation underneath it.
You can’t see the foundation from the outside, but it’s the most important part of any house. A good foundation can hold up a house for a century or more, while a bad one can cause the structure to lean or crumble. So what does an article about getting in college have to do with proper home construction?
Your academic transcript is the foundation of your college application portfolio.
In this article, we’ll examine how your transcript tells a story more complicated than just course names and grades. We’ll even explore how it might affect you after you know where you’re going to college.
The Importance of a Solid Foundation
Continuing with our dream home metaphor, the house you see and everything in represents your extracurricular activities, awards, SAT scores, volunteer work, letters of recommendation, and extraordinary accomplishments that make you unique. However, the transcript foundation makes it all possible. Let’s see what this looks like in real life.
Ned is a college admissions counselors. He opens up your application to find lots of paperwork (or attachments if you applied online). He flips to the transcript. If it’s within or exceeds the ballpark of what his college wants in its next crop of freshman, he continues to review the rest of your application before making a decision. If the transcript is borderline good/bad, he might review one or two more items before continuing or stopping. And if the transcript is weak, he ignores the rest before putting your application in the ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ pile.
There Are Exceptions
Every college is different, and some specifically require their college admissions counselors to take a holistic approach: reviewing everything in an applicant’s portfolio before making a decision. However, with so many high school seniors applying to the nation’s top colleges and universities, college admissions counselors use tricks like the one in the previous section to weed out applicants they believe may not succeed academically. After all, nothing looks worse for a college than a high drop out rate.
So how college admissions counselors interpret transcripts beyond ‘Many A/B Grades=Good’ or ‘Many C/D Grades=Bad’? Lucky for you, one word sums up something just as important they hope to see when they review your transcript:
Some students make straight As without effort while others struggle to make Cs. No matter a student’s academic potential, consistent grades paint a clear picture: an applicant will likely perform the same in college. An applicant whose grades are all over the place brings up many questions and concerns in the eyes of college admissions counselors. Maybe the applicant would excel if accepted. Maybe not. For the average college admissions counselor, the safe bet is to assume ‘maybe not’ and send the application to the reject pile.
Like before, there are exceptions. Students who struggle their freshman year and then improve academically throughout high school is a positive example of an inconsistent transcript. College admissions counselors are people, too; they understand that the transition to high school is not an easy one for some students.
Another important exception involves the courses themselves. A C grade in a World History is a lot easier to achieve than a C grade in AP World History. If you took many honors or AP courses in high school, consistency might not play as big of a role in college admissions counselors’ decision making.
What if you’re a senior? It’s January; your college applications are done and over. As Julius Caesar would say, “The die has been cast.” Before we wrap up, let’s address one question I bet that’s on your mind:
Do I still need to care about my high school transcript?
Your high school transcript doesn’t lose its importance when you apply to college or even when you receive an acceptance from your dream school. Depending on your situation, it may continue to influence your academic future for the next year or more. You may discover further scholarship opportunities which require you to submit a full academic transcript. A significant dip in your grades would not look good.
The other impact your transcript can have post-graduation is college course placement. Many colleges use a combination of transcripts, SAT scores, and placement tests to put incoming students into math and English courses. If you excelled throughout your senior year, your college might let you skip a course or two, the benefits of which include saving money and possibly graduating early.
So please take the advice of your parents, teachers, and me: don’t slack off the spring semester of your senior year. Future you will thank present you for your diligence and hard work.
For college-bound students, maintaining a consistent academic transcript pays off during college admission season and beyond. As you plan for the future, don’t forget the exceptions we’ve discussed. Polish every part of your application portfolio and double check that you have everything you need to apply.
Beyond that, good luck!