Building a Strong Transcript

By Kerry Lynch

December 7, 2020

2020 has proven that a lot of things we thought we could count on, such as our children dashing off to school in the morning, we cannot. Sometimes, it seems like there is little we can control as the pandemic grips us. So, this is a good time to look closely at one thing students and parents can control together in the high school years –  the strength of the student’s transcript. In survey after survey, college admissions teams rank the transcript as the most important factor in admissions decisions (for a quick review of the data compiled by the National Association for College Admission Counseling NACAC click here.) The importance of the transcript cannot be exaggerated nor can it be overcome with flashy extracurricular activities or letters of recommendation. Colleges are academic institutions and they need to know and evaluate applicants as students.

There are two major factors in evaluating a transcript. One is the grades and one is the courses or strength of curriculum. Yes, colleges want to see “good” grades – as many A’s and B’s as a student can give them. But they want to see those grades in rigorous courses. If your child always takes the standard level course and always makes A’s, the college will not be as impressed as they would be if he or she took some honors level courses and moved into an AP course or two in junior and senior years while maintaining the A’s. But, getting a B+ in an honors class is better from an admissions perspective than never having tried an upper level course. College admissions teams also want to see all the core subjects (English, math, science, social studies, world language) on the transcript each year. Senior year is for maintaining momentum. Summer is for taking it easy! 

Keep in mind that colleges only see end of year grades – there is plenty of time left in this school year to ensure they are good. Also, course selection, which usually takes place in the late winter, is a great time for students to connect with their school counselor and grownups to choose classes that will help present a strong transcript to colleges.

Looking for other ways you and your child can work together for good outcomes? Here are a few ideas that will pay off when you get to the application process:

  • Help your student develop strong “habits of mind” such as setting stretch goals and advocating for him or herself.
  • Set a good example on interacting with adults. Students will be asking teachers for letters of recommendation. In the early high school years, help them demonstrate their curiosity and respond appropriately if there are concerns.
  • Encourage students to build a relationship with the school counselor and to communicate early in the high school years that they are college-bound and are counting on the counselor’s help and advice.
  • Provide a glimpse of the future by encouraging your child to explore careers through school-based programs and informally by talking to family and friends.

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