This is the fifth in a series of posts about how a homeschooling student can put together a persuasive college application. In this series, I talk about
In this post, I want to focus on the high school transcript. Even transcripts from a private or public high school offer little to the admissions committee, because the committee doesn’t know what kind of standards were enforced at the high school in question: what does a B in algebra mean from this school as compared to that school? But to be honest, transcripts from home schoolers are usually so badly done as to be worthless.
To begin with, home school transcripts often come across as unreal. I can’t tell you how many applications I have reviewed from home schoolers with straight A’s for all four years of high school! The parent may be afraid that a poor grade on the transcript will reduce the odds of their child’s admission, but this isn’t true at all. In real life lots of people get good grades in this and poor grades in that, and the committee sees it all the time: lots and lots of people who got a C in algebra succeed in college! But more than that, the straight-A transcript doesn’t help because just gets lost in the flood of home schooled straight-A transcripts the committee reviews every year. It’s meaningless.
But, you may object, my child really is bright and hardworking and really has earned A’s in all his courses! Great: here is your chance to give the admissions committee something even more useful than a transcript from a public or private school.
Transcripts usually just list courses and grades: it would be too complicated for a big educational institution to do more. But this leaves the admissions committee wondering: What does “English” mean at this school? What is “American History”? And for that matter, what was taught in “Algebra”? If you can simply list the textbooks and source texts used in your home school courses, you’ll be way ahead of the pack. As an admissions committee member, I am not impressed that your student took “English”: everybody does. But if I see that your child has read Shakespeare and Twain and a bunch of other authors I recognize, I will feel like I understand your child’s accomplishment.
Next, say something about how your child was graded. What standards and rules were enforced? I sometimes come across statements like this in a college application from a home schooler: “We have had no set deadlines for assignments.” I wish you would have set deadlines for some things, so your child can practice what it will be like to perform under pressure at college; there is an art to handling a deadline, and it is an art learned only through experience. But still, I appreciate that the parent explained the standard used, because that gives me a better sense of what the grades on the transcript mean.
Here is another statement I sometimes come across: “We had no grading scale; we did things until they were correct.” It’s good that the parent explained how the grading standard worked—I wish every transcript would be so explicit!—but I would urge this parent to consider reflecting different levels of achievement somehow on the transcript. If your child did A-level work on the first try in English Composition but had to re-do his work eight times to get an A in Math, that is relevant information for the admissions committee, and being open with the committee avoids that impression of unrealism I mentioned above.
Whatever your standards are, make them explicit to the admissions committee either in the letter of reference or in a page attached to the transcript. Your transcript may be the only truly useful transcript the committee reviews this year!
But all the indirect testimony in the world, be it a letter of reference, a transcript, or even a standardized test, cannot replace the witness of your student’s own work. In my next post, I’ll share a couple of thoughts about the role of the student essay in the college application.