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Understanding How High School Transcripts Affect the College Admissions Process

Find out how to understand your transcript and tips to ensure it is benefiting you in every way possible!

One of the most important pieces of the college admission process is the applicant’s high school transcript.

What is a transcript?

In short, a transcript is a cumulative report card. The high school transcript is the official record the high school uses to keep track of the individual academic credits earned by each student. The format can be different depending on the school’s information system, for example, some schools organize the credits earned by the school year while others will organize them by the department (so all your math credits are next to each other).

In general, every transcript should include some basic components:

  • Identifying student information including name, address, and birthdate

  • Identifying school information including school name, address, and phone number

  • Grades awarded for each course attempted

  • Level of rigor of each course attempted (Honors, AP, IB, Dual Credit)

  • Number of credits each course is awarded

  • Cumulative number of credits earned

  • Cumulative GPA

  • Some transcripts also include:

  • State standardized test scores (for state graduation verification)

  • Rank or quartile information/ranges

  • SAT/ACT scores

Types of transcripts

There are two types of high school transcripts: official and unofficial. Both transcripts should have the exact information generated on the document but the official version is verified in some way from the registrar’s office therefore preventing any changes to be made after generation. This verification is usually accompanied by a signature, official stamp, or in a sealed envelope directly from the registrar’s office to the receiving party.

Unofficial transcripts will have no verification attached and will even sometimes have a watermark across the page to indicate that it is unofficial. You can usually easily get your hands on an unofficial transcript for your own records (or to help you fill out a Self Reported Academic Record) from your school counselor or registrar.

Official transcripts are most often the type of transcript that will be needed to submit with your college admission application. You will need to inquire with your school on the specific process to request your official transcript to be sent directly to the appropriate recipient!

Transcripts and college admissions

A student’s transcript is necessary to not only verify their graduation from high school, but it is also a large part of the admission process. Colleges and universities will analyze the high school transcript of each applicant as one of the first levels of determining fit for the school (often times before reading any essays or words directly from the student).

So how can you ensure your transcript isn’t causing you to be an automatic decline within the first few minutes of an admission officer looking at your application?

The first step you should take to ensure this official piece of academic record will benefit you begins with accuracy. Errors on the transcript happen all the time.

There are often 3-5 steps the high school has to execute for a grade, attempted/awarded credit, and GPA points of a single course to be recorded/awarded onto a transcript. These steps also include many different people/systems including the classroom teacher, a dual credit community college teacher, the school’s technology information system, registrars, and counselors. That is lot of hands in that pot that could cause errors erroneously. Make sure you are requesting to see your transcript after each semester or term to ensure everything is a correct reflection of your academic achievements!

Another step to ensure this official piece of academic record will benefit you is to find out if your high school lists your SAT/ACT scores or class rank/quartile information on the transcript.

Some schools administer the SAT/ACT on campus and will place those scores directly on your transcript. Depending on the time of year that the school day SAT/ACT was administered, you might have retaken and increased your score multiple times. By keeping that old (and potentially) lower score on your transcript, you are inadvertently giving the colleges/universities a score that you may have never intended them to see. If this score isn’t your highest score achieved, inquire with your school registrar or counselor on how to remove or update the score on your transcript.

The same is true for listing class rank/quartile information directly on the transcript. Class rank is purely a comparison of your academic achievements in the classroom to your peers in your same school and graduating class. Unless your rank is within the top percentages of your class, it often will not help you. Especially if you attend an extremely academically competitive school, your class rank might not reflect the type of student you have established yourself to be. Ensure that all class rank/quartile information on your transcript is only a benefit to you, and if it isn't, inquire with your school registrar or counselor about how you can request to remove it altogether!

At the end of the day, you want each piece of your application to benefit you and allow the admission officer to continue reading your application. You are in the driver’s seat to the story you are building around the name at the top of the application. Ensure each piece of it, even this official document generated from your high school, is painting a positively accurate picture!


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