High school transcripts include lots of information. What does it all mean, and how do scholarship awards committees and college admissions officers use the data to make decisions?
We asked one of the most engaged administrators in the Parchment network, Dr. Brett Morris, Executive Director for Enrollment Management at Eastern Kentucky University. When it comes to high school transcripts, here are 10 things that he says every counselor should be communicating to their students.
- They’re a starting point. Transcripts have to be recorded before they’re evaluated. Most schools enter the data in what’s known as a Student Information System. Eastern Kentucky University uses a system called Banner to help decode and process the “nearly 12,000 transcripts” that EKU has received over the past year.
- Digital transcripts lead to faster decisions. Morris says that getting digital transcripts enables better and more efficient workflow, which can be a relief for anxious students waiting on a decision. “As a Parchment member, we import [digital transcripts received] directly into Banner, which speeds up our ability to get a student an admissions decision right away — usually within 48 hours of receiving their transcripts a letter will go out in the mail.”
- GPA is the most important factor when it comes to admissions. While it probably sounds obvious, no single stat on a student’s high school transcript resonates as deeply as grade-point average. “GPA is the most important factor in deciding whether to enroll a new student at Eastern Kentucky University.
- But test scores are a close second. Morris says that many high school transcripts may also include standardized test scores. Learning to be a good test taker years before students sit down for the ACT or SAT can help them get into the college of their choice or earn merit scholarship awards.
- Rank and schedule difficulty also matter. People often think of high school transcripts as merely a reflection of grades earned. Not so, Morris says. EKU also looks to transcripts for contextual data that speaks to students’ ability to compete. “[At Eastern Kentucky University], we also look at class ranking and academic course rigor for determining selection to our nationally recognized Honors Program.”
- Patterns speak louder than outcomes. A great semester of math isn’t as important as a consistent record of solid — if unspectacular — performance in the same subject over the course of a high school career. Similarly, “a significant drop in a student’s term GPA” could be a red flag, Morris says, in that it could indicate a student isn’t delivering their best work on a regular basis.
- Every year counts!. Administrators want to see a pattern of predictable effort and consistent success. “Students need to understand that high school grades count from day one,” Morris says. “Too many student [records] show they didn’t take grades seriously as a freshman, then they spend the next 2-3 years trying to resurrect their GPA.” Scholarship-granting organizations tend to disqualify applicants who “wake up” late in their school career, Morris says.
- Administrators use past performance to predict the future, and then judge accordingly. If it sounds harsh to penalize a student for a mediocre GPA or inconsistent classroom performance, Morris says it isn’t without cause. Students tend to bring the habits they exhibit in high school with them to college. “A student with a high GPA has demonstrated not only [classroom] mastery but also a willingness to complete outside assignments to a high standard and get them turned in on time. Much of college success comes from being a serious and disciplined student.”
- The admissions process doesn’t end with the first transcript submitted. While most students will apply for and be accepted to a university before getting a final high school transcript, the process doesn’t end there. Those qualifying for federal financial aid such as Pell Grants will need to provide final documents before funds can be disbursed. “As soon as a student graduates high school, they should log in to Parchment and get that last transcript sent so that nothing holds up their financial assistance.”
- College credit must be properly documented. Today more students are taking college courses while in high school, such as Dual Credit or Advanced Placement (AP). “Students need to have official transcripts from the college granting the credits or from AP as soon as they’re available. This can minimize problems when it comes time to register for fall classes.”
While there’s always more to a student than what is reflected on their high school transcripts, no single document has a greater impact on a student’s ability to get into the school of their choice or earn merit scholarships. Counselors can use these tips to help students understand the importance of the transcript as it relates to the story it tells admissions personal about the student. Make it count!
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[editors note: original post 07/26/2016, updated with infographic]