Here, we provide FREE downloadable resources and articles written by Lizard staff on useful tips for each aspect of college admissions, at all levels.

What Colleges Consider When Reviewing a Transcript

What Does Your Course Record Reveal About You?

Colleges evaluate students based on their academic record, specifically their transcript. A student’s transcript is a tell-all of educational accomplishments. While an overall GPA gives a ‘round’ number to a student’s big picture performance, the real depth of a student’s willingness to challenge themselves and ability to succeed academically lies in the details. Admissions officers consider progression, grade trends, level of coursework, language proficiency, and rigor of science and mathematics classes to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the student’s academic abilities and perseverance.

Some schools offer only a few Honors, AP, and IB classes. Thus, admissions officers consider curriculum constraints, religion requirements, and specialized programs. Some schools restrict the number of AP or IB classes for freshmen and sophomores. Some schools have specialized programs like the IB Diploma, Health Sciences Pathway, or an Engineering Certificate Program, which often come with specific requirements.

While students may have As in art, athletics, health, and religion, core courses such as Math, Science, English, Social Science, and Foreign Language are deemed the most essential. In fact, several colleges recalculate the GPA of students based solely on their performance in core courses.

In some majors, prerequisite classes put students on track to succeed. For instance, engineering majors are at a distinct disadvantage if they did not take AP Physics in high school when the majority of their class has taken one or two years. Thus, some top colleges require AP Physics 1, 2, or C as a prerequisite, and some even demand AP Physics C if it is available. Similarly, some prestigious colleges will not accept a student as a business major if they did not take high school calculus.

Students often ask, “Is it better to get an A in a non-weighted class or a B in a weighted class.” While there are other variables like teacher fairness, overall course schedule, balance with extracurricular activities, and amount of reading, in general, it is better to take the weighted class. First, the weighted class is more rigorous and a better preparation for college. Second, with the non-weighted class, there is no chance for a 5-point A.

Finally, if your grades trend upward, colleges will notice your improvement, particularly if you take classes that are increasingly challenging. However, if your grades go down and you have a reason like a family death, personal illness, or emergency (fire, hurricane, tornado, or other), explain what happened in the additional information section of the application. Colleges want to know, and your explanation may make the difference in your admission. Your counselor can also provide context to your situation or possibly a teacher recommendation can present your positive qualities such as effective communication, emotional intelligence, initiative, resilience, and perseverance.

Building Your College List – The Brief Basics

GPA & Test Scores: Are your GPA and test scores in the middle 50th percentile?

Admissions Requirements: Does the college require 2, 3, or 4 years of a language, a year of art, AP Physics C, or Calculus?

Major/Curriculum: Does the college offer your major? Do they offer courses you find interesting?

Acceptance Rates: What are your chances of admission?

Rankings: While college counselors dismiss rankings, most parents do not.

Cost, Scholarships, Financial Aid: Complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile (if necessary). Note: Private colleges often give scholarships, making the actual price less than public universities.

Reach-Target-Safety: Your college list should include dream schools, but also those where you have a higher probability of admission.

Early Decision/Early Action: (1) Not all schools have ED or EA. (2) You can only apply to one ED (it’s binding). (3) ED acceptance rates are significantly higher. (4) ED/EA admit/deny/waitlist much sooner.

Holistic Review: Some colleges consider the whole student and their accomplishments (resume, portfolio, video intro) while others only consider transcripts and test scores.

Admissions Interviews: Some interview signups are on the college website. Other colleges contact students after they apply. Preparation helps.

School Activities: Does the college offer clubs, sports, music, art, theatre, films, newspapers, journals, traditions, outdoor activities, free tutoring, health support, etc.?

Sororities & Fraternities: Do you want the study group, social scene, and friendship circles of a house?

School Spirit & Dorm Life: Do you crave big-time sports, school spirit, and dorm activities that offer energy and connectedness?

Research: Does the college offer wet lab, clinical, computer, writing projects, and fieldwork to prepare you for graduate school?

Internship Opportunities: Does your program of interest offer internships, training, and job preparation skills?

Career Center: Are there career counselors? Do companies interview on campus?

Study Abroad: Almost all colleges offer study abroad with professors from other colleges but few host programs specifically for their students. Ask.

Chart Due Dates & Requirements: I highly recommend starting this ASAP.

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