We’ve talked about SATs (“Those Three Letters That Start With S”), Extra-Curricular Activities (“The Social Network”), Personal Statements (“The Art of Candy Stripping and the Trumpet Player on the Moon”) and Interviews (“Interviewing 101”).

But I don’t think that we’ve discussed, yet, the most important part of the application folder.

Uh….yes, you did – Those Three Little Letters….)

Brad, tell your Mom there is something far more important to most admission counselors than the test you took on one, two (or three) Saturday mornings.

OK, but she doesn’t believe you.

There is no better indicator, no more comprehensive piece of information, no more telling tale of a student than the high school transcript.

It tells me the courses taken, the grades received, the school attended.  It shows me trends and gaps.  It reveals questions and concerns.  It puts the dreaded SAT in some type of context, as well as coupling with the extra-curricular activities to reveal the student’s time management skills. 

The high school transcript lets me know what kind of student your high school thinks you are.  Did they offer you the chance to take AP and honors courses?  What kind of courses did you take – it was your counselor and teachers who suggested them, to begin with.  The letters of recommendation only verify or contradict the information that the transcript has already provided.  Everything else in the admission folder is put into context around that transcript.

So, in true blog form, it’s probably worth providing some key bullet points to help you better understand the transcript, its role in college admissions and what you and your child can (and cannot) do to present Ashley or Justin’s best side.

Here we go:

1) What you did at 14 and 15 matters.  More than anything else, this is the part of the admission puzzle you are creating before you know you are creating it.

2) But the more recent grades matter more.  We are getting you at 18, not 14.

3) Colleges do look – very much so – at curriculum.  A 3.2 in AP and honors courses trumps a 4.0 in Basket Weaving.  (Unless you are going to major in Basket Weaving in College).

4) But, please note that a 1.7 in AP and Honors courses does not  help you.  Generally, take the hardest course in which you can do well.  I realize determining that is not always easy.

5) Admissions folks generally recalculate your GPA based on their system and based on your “core” courses in English, Math, Social Studies, Science and Foreign Languages.   I know few schools, if any, that look at an A in Driver’s Ed and a C in English and come up with a “B” overall.

6) If a high school has a 4.0 scale and their top 10 percent is averaging 4.5, we are not amused.  Those type of “110 percent” rating scales are for the families, and for Class Ranking purposes, NOT for the admission counselors.

7) As noted, the asterisk to #6 is Class Rank.  If we use class rank in our calculation, we use the high school’s ranking.  But it may not outweigh our own GPA and curriculum evaluations.

8) The newest trend in admissions – self-reported transcripts.  No kidding.   Link here (video).

9) If Ashley can handle it, be aware that AP courses and college-level courses offered through your high school, can save you $$$ in the overall scheme  of things.  They will cost much less than the cost of the typical college credit.  But don’t forget the “if Ashley can handle it” part of the statement.

10) Help Caitlin and Justin, as appropriate, in course selection each Spring.  The difference between AP Physics and Physics for Beginners is FAR greater than the difference between a B and C.  Again, curriculum matters.

11) And remind Brad that all he can control is to do his best.  And give 100 percent, not 110 percent – unless Math is not one of his strong suits.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.