College Counseling & Planning      Orleans, MA. (774) 801-2449      Ashland, OR. (541) 488-0919
The last year or two of high school is extremely stressful, thinking about colleges, tests, scholarships, etc. Jan has made...more
--Andrew Cataldo, Gonzaga University, 2012

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WHAT IS A STRONG TRANSCRIPT AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY? Pick up any article on college admissions and one of the key points will be that colleges look for strong transcripts from their applicants. What does that mean? One of the first things to keep in mind is that the courses required in order to graduate from high school are not necessarily the courses that colleges and universities require for admission. High schools have minimum credits that are required by the state in order for a student to receive a diploma at the end of four years. Colleges, on the other hand, are looking for more depth and intensity of study. In other words, the bare minimum isn’t going to satisfy the admission committee. One of the reasons for this difference according to a study by the Department of Education is that the most significant precollege factor in whether a student graduates from college is the intensity of the high school curriculum.

According to admission counselors at Washington University in St. Louis, a strong college preparatory transcript should reflect four years of English, four years of math, three or four years of science (at least one being a lab), social studies and at least two years (preferably three or four) of the same foreign language. One of the subjects most contested by students wanting to skip or short change is foreign language. Many argue that they are never going to become fluent in a second language, so what is the point. This logic confuses the benefits of being fluent with those of studying a second language. Studying a foreign language can help a student immensely to understanding basic ‘grammar’ in English. Another benefit in this increasingly global world is the understanding and acceptance that not everyone in the world worth speaking to speaks English. By studying a foreign language hopefully you will come to know and appreciate another culture other than your own.

High school students need to take the most challenging courses that they can handle. The question is always, “Why should I take an AP course?” or “Should I take a hard course and get a lower grade or should I take an easier course and ace it?” Without question admission counselors to whom I have spoken say that a student should take a harder course if they think they can handle it with at least a B. If they think that they are going to struggle and get a C or worse, or their other courses are going to suffer in order for them to get that B, then they should probably not take it. That being said, you should not shy away from taking harder courses just to protect your GPA.

It cannot be stressed enough that after all is said and done, the most important factor in an applicant’s application is their academic record. First and foremost the college looks at what courses were taken, how challenging they were and how the student did. THEN, they move on to SAT scores, recommendations, essays and extra-curricular activities. Most likely an application with a weak transcript will automatically land in the reject pile without much further discussion.
A solid transcript with challenging courses (particularly the senior year) will indicate to the admission committee that you are a serious student, and one who is building an academic background that will allow you to handle the rigors of a college curriculum no matter what the major is. If your transcript is weak, their question will be “If you can’t handle hard courses in high school what is to say that you can handle them in college?”

Judith Christie
College Planning Consultants