Your high school transcript is often the first part of the application an admissions officer reviews. Why? Colleges want to make sure that you will be ready to handle the rigors of college. The transcript tells a bigger story than just your overall GPA.

All high schools use different GPA calculations and course weights, so it is essentially impossible for colleges to compare the numerical GPA from one high school to another. (Many universities, in fact, will recalculate your GPA to more fairly compare and evaluate students from different high schools.) Because all high schools are different, universities look to see how you performed in each individual course. What classes did you take? Was there a progression in the rigor from year to year? 

Admissions officers will emphasize your junior year and first semester senior grades: Your junior year is the last full year of coursework that you provide, assuming you apply without a gap year, and your senior year should be the most challenging set of courses on your record. Admissions counselors will also look for trends in your grades. If you struggled early in high school, but your grades and GPA have increased by senior year, admissions officer will positively view the upward trend. That is definitely a plus for your application!

Universities also review each course name and level. Having an A in an AP or Honors course is more impressive than a standard college prep course, but that doesn’t mean you have to take every AP course offered to impress colleges, since taking more high-level courses could have a negative effect on your grades and your extracurricular involvement. It’s more important to perform well in all of your courses, and you should prioritize the courses that interest you and that relate to your intended major.

Are you worried about a lower grade on your transcript? Keep in mind that one grade on your transcript does not tell colleges everything they need to know about you, and other factors – essays, test scores, letters of recommendation and extracurricular involvement – give admissions officers a fuller picture of each applicant.

About the author
Jamie Moynihan

Jamie received a BA from University of Mary Washington and an MA in higher education administration from George Mason University. Jamie has a decade of admissions experience at several institutions, including University of California – Berkeley and Loyola University Maryland. He also served as associate director of college counseling at a private high school in Washington, DC. Jamie provides oversight for all undergraduate counseling at AcceptU. He is an IECA Professional Member.

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