What Colleges Look for in a Transcript

Colleges will get your high school transcript, and on it will be your grades from freshman, sophomore and junior years. (Because you won’t have finished your first semester of senior year by the time you’re applying to colleges and sending transcripts).

There are actually two ways in which colleges will look at your transcript: the grades you’ve received, and the courses you’ve taken.

Research shows that high school grades are the #1 factor in college admissions decisions; strength of curriculum is second. Other factors are considered, but the body of work you develop in high school is what matters most. So, let’s talk about what colleges are looking for…

Your Grades

First, and not surprisingly, colleges will look at your grades. Are you an A- student or a C+ student? While the answer to this will tell them a lot about you, it tells only part of the story. In order to really understand your GPA, colleges have to understand the context in which you earned that GPA. To do that, they look at how challenging your courses were. This is often  referred to as “strength of curriculum” or “rigor.”

Your High School Courses

Rigor is difficult to define because it means different things to different students. For some students a full load of honors or AP classes might be natural. For others, however, taking just one honors class may speak volumes about their willingness to accept a challenge (and it’s not hard for colleges to recognize this). Stretch yourself and be willing to accept a challenge academically. At the same time, be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have to try to be good at everything, but you can stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Recognize that more challenging coursework may require a little more work, but you WILL expand your list of potential colleges, and you will be well-prepared for college when you get there!