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College Transcripts

How Colleges Evaluate Transcripts

Imagine the dilemma. College admissions offices must somehow make sense of the myriad of ways that students from the more than 25,000 U.S. high schools report student achievement on their high school transcripts.—to say nothing of the many different ways that international applicants
from dozens of countries present their grade reports and credentials. Some secondary schools use a 100 point scale, others opt for a 4.0, a 5.0, or even a ten point scale. Some add additional points
for honors, AP or IB classes. Still others offer no grades at all, reporting progress anecdotally. The trick is to somehow level the playing field for all students by converting these reports to a common scale.
Most high schools send a school profile along with their transcript. The profile explains the grading scale and usually offers some sort of grade distribution so admissions officers can estimate how their applicant performed compared to other students at their high school. The profile also provides information about the number and type of advanced classes available at that school as well as standardized test score results. Armed with this information, admissions officers can make an informed guess about what that 3.5 or 4.74 really means. For international students, you may have to work with your school to develop a school profile that can be sent to your colleges.
At most high schools, a student’s GPA will include all classes, including non academic ones such as PE or band or religion. Other schools offer a weighted GPA, an unweighted GPA, and a state approved GPA. Once again, the college admissions officer must determine how to evaluate these numbers in comparison to the GPAs of other applicants. In most cases, colleges respond by re-computing the applicant’s GPA to include only grades earned in core academic classes—math,science, social studies, English,and foreign language. This will usually be an unweighted GPA, but rigor of curriculum will be heavily factored into the evaluation.
What happens when students retake a class to improve performance? Once again, this is left to the discretion of each admissions office. Often, colleges will replace the lower grade with the new grade earned for the same class, but other colleges may simply average both grades into their re-computed GPA. As you can see, it’s no small task to evaluate transcripts fairly. College admission officers travel to visit schools and learn about their programs and options for students,and they pour over schools’ profiles and statistics, as they work hard to assess the multitude of transcripts as fairly as possible.

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