What is a High School Transcript and Why is it Important?

Why your transcript is essential to your college admissions and how you can stand out.

As you’re preparing for college, you’ll learn that there are many factors that help college admissions staff learn more about you. Your application, college essay, SAT or ACT scores and GPA show these counselors what your abilities, interests and skills are so they can decide if you’re a good fit for the college.

Your high school transcript, which shows your high school grades, classes and GPA, will most likely be the first piece of information a college admissions officer will review. This complete record of your coursework, grades and credits provides concrete evidence of whether you’re prepared to attend a particular college or not.

As you prepare your college admissions applications, request a copy of your high school transcript from your high school counselor or school registrar so you can review it for accuracy.

When planning for college, you must keep this in mind as you take classes, study and later get grades — the work you put into it will directly impact your ability to get into colleges. Your transcription will show admissions counselors how hard you work, what areas you excel in and which major or type of degree might be best for you. Obviously this is in conjunction with the other elements of your application, but now you can see how important a transcript is in the application process.

What College Admissions Counselors Examine on Your Transcript

  • Your grade point average (GPA) and class rank: Be aware that some schools only consider core classes (like English, math, science and social studies) when calculating your GPA (What is a GPA?), while others look at grades for all of your classes.
  • The types of classes you took in high school: The variety and difficulty of classes will help them see what type of student you are; AP/IB classes will show that you are serious about planning for college, while a course load of non-academic classes will not impress them very much.
  • A consistent GPA: When school search for new students, they want to see that you are willing to work hard, you enjoy challenging yourself and learning new things and you can maintain a high grade point average. For those who had a rocky start, keep at it! Schools also like to see GPA improvement. Plus, you can speak to what changed and why you want to go to college to help them understand the discrepancy among your grades.
  • The number of pass/fail classes you took: Earning a passing grade in these classes is often considered a D by colleges. Avoid pass/fail classes so they don’t impact your cumulative GPA.
  • Your behavior record, if included: The only time your behavior record displays on your transcript is when there were any negative reports, such as suspensions or other disciplinary actions.

What does your transcript include?

To determine how you’re being evaluated for college programs and degrees, ask your guidance counselor about your transcript with the following questions:

  • How often are students evaluated: every quarter, trimester or semester?
  • Does the transcript only include courses I’ve completed, or are dropped/incomplete courses also on the record?
  • How does the school rank students? (High school academic rankings compare your cumulative GPA (your average GPA for each semester of high school) against your classmates’ scores. Common ranking types include: X out of Y (For example, 208th out of 600, with 1 as the highest-ranked student), percentage (90th percentile), ratio (top fifth of graduating class))
  • Is my GPA weighted, with AP/IB classes worth more? (This means GPAs higher than 4.0 are possible, which affects where your score falls in the rankings.)
  • Does the transcript include a profile with records like my attendance, community service, a list of honors, and AP classes, etc.?
  • Does my transcript include a school profile? This is a demographic record of the student population, AP/IB classes offered and other pertinent information that is usually required by college admissions officers.

Add an Extracurricular Resume to Your High School Transcript

To supplement your academic transcript, you can add an extracurricular resume, listing all of your after school activities, along with the years in which you participated. Include sections for school activities, awards and honors (both academic and extracurricular), community service, work experience and alumni affiliation.

Quick Tips

  • As you prepare your college admissions applications, request a copy of your high school transcript from your high school counselor or school registrar so you can review it for accuracy.
  • Understand the difference between your cumulative GPA and your GPA for each grading period, and keep track of how you’re doing. Colleges will look at your individual GPA for each grading period but are most concerned with your cumulative GPA for all semesters of high school.
  • Check average GPAs at schools you want to attend. You may find a college you love, but if your transcript isn’t strong enough, you might not be a desired candidate.
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