Take Your Transcript to Lunch
Before sending your high school transcript out to a college or university do yourself a favor and take it out to lunch. It could make all the difference in terms of your getting in to the school of your choice. Why? Because far too many times applicants send their high school transcripts to colleges without ever sitting down and getting to know them. They make the mistake of thinking that since they know what the transcript says in terms of grades and classes that they know what the transcript says about them. The latter is what colleges will be after when they review your transcript, so figuring out what your transcript says about you will help you to craft an application that raises your chances of getting in rather than red flags about you. Here are several tips for learning what your transcript says about you.
Tip #1: Get your Transcript
Full disclosure. When I applied to college- and graduate school for that matter- I sent my transcripts to schools without looking at them. I considered my transcripts a done deal, the part of the application that I could not change so not worth reviewing. I knew what the transcripts said because, after all, they listed my classes and my grades. What I didn’t know is what my transcript said about me to universities. Besides, I could not have looked over my transcript because I could not put my hands on a copy of it. So my transcript ended up going from one school to another without me ever looking at it. While I cannot be certain, I believe my applications suffered from this oversight. Having been on the other side of the equation as a professor on an admissions team, I have looked over applications scratching my head about the disconnect between what applicants say about themselves and their academic aspirations and what their transcript says about them. The first step in preventing this disconnect is obtaining a copy of your transcript. Print it out and take it to lunch.
Tip #2: Forget Your Transcript
On your way to lunch with your transcript imagine that you are in the movie Men in Black. Picture Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith putting on their dark sunglasses and holding up that little device that then flashes your mind blank, causing you to forget that the paper in the seat next to you is your transcript. Sit down for lunch with the goal of learning as much as you can from the transcript about the person behind it. The better you can pretend that your transcript is someone else’s, the better you will be able to see what it says about you to a college.
Tip 3#: Ask Good Questions
Keep in mind that colleges use your transcript to infer things about you. Since you are not sitting there in front of them, they look to the transcript to get an idea about you as a person and student. Asking the following questions of your transcript will help you to get a sense of what your transcript says about you.
- Does your transcript point up or down?
Transcripts often have trajectories in terms of student performance, and colleges prefer ones that point up rather than down. An overall upward trend in grades tells colleges that you have, over time, become more serious your studies and learned how to work harder. Colleges extrapolate from your transcript, and prefer students who to appear to be on the way up rather than down. Take a close look at your grades over your high school career to see if there is a trend. If it is not readily apparent, make a little graph with GPA on the Y-axis and year of school on the X-axis and plot your performance over your four years. If there is an upward trend, great, as this should raise your chances of getting accepted. If the line slopes downward- let’s say that overall you did worse as a senior than as a sophomore- this might raise a red flag to colleges that might need to address elsewhere in your application.
2. Does your transcript have any peaks or valleys?
Run your eyes across the following grades. A, A, A-, B+, A, F, B, A. Which one catches your attention? The “F” does because it is an exception and outlier to an otherwise strong and even transcript. Peaks and valleys in your transcript can work for or against you, so knowing if there are any in your transcript can help you address them elsewhere in your application. For example, if you earned an “A” in Honors Calculus when no other math grade on the transcript is above a B- and you are applying to be a math major, you might want argue why this is a better indicator of your mathematical potential than your other grades. Find the peaks and valleys in your transcript by running your eyes down the grades for any outliers. If any catchy your eye, consider finding a way in your application to control the story they could tell about you.
3. What is the degree of difficulty in your transcript?
Much like in gymnastics or diving, the overall significance of your grades or grade point average depends in large part on the difficulty of your course of study. In other words, an “A” in basic math does not count the same as say, an “A” in Calculus 9, if there is such a thing. Colleges look to see if you took tough classes, and weigh your performance accordingly. Here again, you can look for a trend in terms of the degree of difficulty. For example, if you took more challenging classes over the course of your high school career you might note this in your essay to answer potential concerns about a slightly downward overall trajectory in terms of your performance. While many high schools weight classes in terms of calculating your overall GPA, you should be aware of whether your transcript might say about whether you challenged yourself over the course of your high school career. The last thing you want is to write an essay about being willing to challenge yourself as a learner and have a transcript heavy on cupcake classes.
4. Where does the transcript lean?
I look at transcripts to try to gain a sense of two things about students- what compels them and what they excel in. I look to see if the transcript is heavy in any subject area, like math, languages, or art. In my case, my high school transcript leaned heavily towards science in terms of quantity of courses, degree of difficulty and performance (except for chemistry, but that is a long story). It leaned away from languages, which I am still kicking myself for every time I travel to Mexico with my Taco Bell Spanish. It is not hard to look at any of my transcripts and figure out what subjects I liked and excelled in as well as what subjects I avoided and struggled in. To be clear, what subjects you like and what subjects you are good in do not have to be the same thing, but keep in mind that applying to an engineering program with a transcript that says you struggled in the most basic math raises the question of whether you will able to hack the math it takes to become an engineer. In other words, if your transcript leans one way and your college aspirations lean another you might want to find a place in your application to explain why.
Putting these questions to the transcript across from you at lunch will give you a good sense of what colleges might make of it- and you. Keep in mind that while you cannot change what your transcript says, knowing what it says to colleges about you can help you to craft an application that answers any questions or concerns raised by your transcript, thereby raising your chances of getting in. So get up the guts to ask your transcript out to lunch. I am willing to bet that it will gladly accept your invitation and that doing so will increase your chances of getting accepted to the college of your choice. And stay tuned, because after taking transcripts to lunch we will be asking our admissions essay out to dinner.