Help! I Need a High School Transcript . . . Tomorrow!
By Janice Campbell
“Oh, no! My teenager just told me his college application deadline is tomorrow, and he has to have a transcript! I haven’t even started. What can I do?”
I’ve received this email message, or some variation of it, quite a few times, and I can empathize with the panic the writer is feeling. My first son did the same thing to me, and from that trial by fire, I learned several things. The first was to keep better records for the other boys, and the second was that it’s possible to pull together a transcript overnight if you absolutely must. The key is in knowing three things: the purpose of a transcript, what absolutely must go on it, and the easiest way to pull it all together.
What Is the Purpose of a Transcript?
The primary purpose of a high school transcript is to briefly summarize a student’s knowledge and experience. This needs to be done in a way that allows a college admissions counselor to easily compare your student’s credentials to other applicants’ credentials. This means there are certain formatting conventions you’ll need to follow, as well as some standard information you must include.
A secondary purpose for the transcript is to serve as a marketing tool, just as a resumé is a marketing tool for a job applicant. Your goal is to create a transcript that will spotlight your student and his achievements in the best possible way. With the transcript in hand, a counselor can see not only what your student has studied and how well he has done, but also whether there is a special academic or extracurricular interest that sets him apart from other applicants. An awareness of these two purposes will start you on the path to succesfully creating an effective transcript.
What Should Be Included on a Transcript?
There are three major sections within a transcript, and specific information goes into each section. Let’s look at them.
The first section of the transcript, usually placed at the top of the page, focuses on Identity Information. This is where the college admissions counselor will look to find out who your student is and where he went to school. This section will contain four major pieces of information.
1. School Name and Address: You can name your homeschool anything you like, as long as the name doesn’t belong to a traditional school. For example, we used “Stagg Creek High School,” named after a nearby creek, but we could not legitimately use “Patrick Henry High School,” which is the name of the public school closest to us. You may not use the name of a curriculum provider as your school name (e.g., Bob Jones Homeschool).
2. Student Name and Address: Use the name and address that the student used when he or she was in high school. Many parents find themselves having to create a transcript long after high school is over because a student who didn’t originally want to attend college has changed his or her mind. The transcript records the student’s information from his high school years, so even if the student has subsequently married, the transcript should reflect her maiden name only.
3. Date of Birth
4. Date of Graduation
The second section is the Course Record section, which forms the body of the transcript. It contains an overview of the student’s course of study. Here is what usually goes in this section:
• Course Record: This is a list of all the classes your student has taken.
• Grades: You can use the traditional ABCDF grades, or if you don’t use grades, you can use Pass/Fail. It’s a lot faster to use P/F grades, but the disadvantage is that you can’t create a grade point average this way.
• Units Earned: A one-semester class usually earns .5 unit, while a two-semester class earns 1 unit.
The third section of the transcript is the Basic Information section, and it contains information that will help the college admissions counselor effectively interpret the transcript and compare your student to other applicants.
• Grading Scale: Check your state law to see if a grading scale is mandated. If it is, use it. If not, you may establish a scale that corresponds with one used by others schools in your county. The grading scale is usually stated as a list in which A=X%-X% and so forth, or more rarely, A=Excellent, B=Above Average, and so on.
• Key to Abbreviations: If your student earns credit through dual-credit courses at a local college or by taking a standardized test, you can use abbreviations next to the relevant course names to indicate this. Define these abbreviations in this space (e.g., AP: Advanced Placement, and so forth).
• Unit Standard: Check your state law to see if a unit standard is mandated. If it isn’t, you can use a basic standard such as “1 unit represents 120 hours of guided study.”
• Awards/Achievements: List items such as earning an Eagle Scout commendation or winning a robotics competition. You need only to include the name of each award or achievement and the year in which it was received.
• Certifying Signature: As the provider of your student’s education, your signature will certify that the information on the transcript is true and accurate to the best of your ability.
How to Create a Transcript Overnight
Now that I’ve discussed the purpose of the transcript and what should go on it, let’s look at the simplest possible way you can create a transcript. I recommend that you start with a simple vertical format, set up a table, and organize your student’s classes by subject. This will keep you from having to remember exactly when he or she took a particular class and will allow the college admissions counselors to quickly scan the transcript and verify that all entrance requirements have been met. Remember: What counts is whether your student took the class, not when he or she took it.
• Open a new document in the word-processing program on your computer. Set .5" margins. Insert a table with 7 columns and 50 rows. As you work, you can always add or remove rows to make the table exactly fit your needs.
• Select the first 3 columns in the top row in the table and merge the cells. Type in the name, address, and phone number of your homeschool, plus the student’s graduation date.
• Select the other 4 columns in the top row of the table and merge the cells. Type in the student’s name, date of birth, address, phone number, and cumulative grade point average.
• In the next row of the table, type the following headers: Subject, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Units Earned, and Quality Points (or Grade Points).
• In the first column of the transcript, beginning directly under the “Subject” heading, list core high school requirements (see sidebar), organized by subject. For example, the first four lines of your transcript might have four English classes, the next four lines would list math classes, and so forth.
• Place a check mark in the column representing the year in which the student took the class. His first math class will go under “Year 1,” and so forth.
• When you have all the classes listed, go to the second-to-last row in the table. Select the first 3 columns in the row and merge the cells. Type in your grading scale.
• Select the remaining column cells in this row and merge cells. Type in the abbreviations key, unit standard, and the most important awards and achievements.
• Select the last row of the table and merge cells. Type “Certified by” in this cell. This is where you will sign the diploma when you print a final copy.
If you run out of time at this point, you’ll have a very basic check-off transcript with no grades. If you have additional time, you can improve it by adding grades and a GPA. If you didn’t record grades while teaching each class, you’ll need to reconstruct them as honestly as you possibly can. If there is enough time, use test scores and written work to determine the student’s competence level, and use your grading scale to assign a grade. If you simply don’t have time to do this, just use Pass/Fail or the check-off transcript.
• Use the free online GPA calculator at www.freegpacalc.com to calculate your semester averages and cumulative grade point averages.
• If you’d rather calculate the GPA by hand, assign each letter grade its numerical equivalent, e.g., A=4, B=3, C=2, and so forth. Add together all the grade points and divide by the total number of units earned. No matter how you figure the final grade point average, you can be sure that most colleges will refigure all the transcripts they receive to ensure that each is calculated in the same way.
Normally, if the student is taking honors or college-level classes, the quality points assigned would be weighted, or have an extra half or whole grade point added, so that “A” would equal 4.5 quality points for an honors class or 5 quality points for an AP or college class. The online GPA calculator is designed to easily calculate weighted grades, so you may be able to do this in the time available.
If you have time left after you’ve added grades, you may want to do two additional things. First, although your student has doubtless checked admission requirements before considering the college, double-check the requirements to verify that the classes on the student’s transcript meet or exceed the college’s minimum standards. You should be able to find these requirements, along with the academic profile of the average student admitted, on the college’s website. State graduation requirements are a starting point, but it’s the college’s expectations that your student must meet for admission.
Second, go back and make class names more descriptive. Rather than listing just “English III” as a class name, choose a title that offers specific information about what the student studied. For example, if you list “English III: Survey of American Literature,” this identifies the class as the student’s third year of high school English and clearly states what he studied. Similarly, “Calculus with Trigonometry” is more descriptive than “Math IV,” and “Western Civilization to 1608” is more specific than “History.” These more descriptive class names will help the college counselor understand the content of each class, which can help him or her verify that your student has met admission requirements.
Creating a transcript overnight is a real challenge, but you can do it if necessary. You can take steps to make record keeping and the creation of transcripts easier on yourself as well. It is helpful to keep simple records and to start the transcript as soon as your student takes his first high school class. Doing it one semester at a time while everything is still fresh in your mind makes it much easier.
Remember that while both record keeping and transcripts are important, the ultimate goal of the high school years is to help your teenager grow into a mature, well-grounded adult with a solid academic and spiritual foundation. Even if the transcript process is a challenge, your teen will benefit from seeing you work through it. Ultimately, I believe that you’ll find homeschooling through high school a time of encouragement and blessing for your entire family.
Core requirements for high school graduation usually include:
English (including literature) 4
Math (Algebra I and higher) 4
History, Government, Geography (also called Social Sciences) 4
Lab Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) 3–4
Foreign Language 2–3
Arts (Visual and/or Performing) 1
These numbers reflect minimum requirements in many states. It’s important to find out what your student’s prospective college requires, so that you can fulfill all its requirements before graduation.
• 6 courses, 1 unit of each required subject.
• Read for pleasure as much as possible.
• Learn Greek and Latin roots for vocabulary.
• Establish solid study habits.
• Practice note-taking skills.
• Begin developing test-taking skills (PSAT skill book can be useful).
• Think about personal aptitudes and read up on career options.
• Same class balance as freshman year.
• Continue or develop extracurricular activities that fit interests.
• Schedule PSAT for the fall of junior year.
• Begin researching college, trade school, or apprenticeship options.
• Request information.
• Use test-prep books to get ready for the SAT or ACT.
• Take CLEPs whenever ready.
• Eligible to begin taking classes at a community college. (This isn’t true for all community colleges.)
• Six classes.
• Take the PSAT in the fall (optional, but there are benefits).
• Focus on time management and study skills.
• Narrow down college and career options.
• Spring: Take SAT/ACT and visit colleges.
• May/June: Apply to two or more colleges.
• Six classes.
• Scholarship search/essays/application.
• Take SAT Subject Exams, AP, CLEP exams.
• Retake SAT I or ACT if desired.
• Continue good study habits and extracurricular activities.
Janice Campbell, author of Transcripts Made Easy and the Excellence in Literature curriculum, homeschooled her four sons from preschool into college. She writes and speaks on homeschool and business topics and is Director of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (www.naiwe.com). Visit her website, www.Everyday-Education.com, for encouraging articles and resources for homeschooling through high school.
Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Fall 2010. Used with permission. Visit them at Schoolhouse Store, where shipping is always free (U.S. only)!