College Admission Requirements: Your Transcript

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

College admission requirements typically include the transcript, which indicates the courses you've taken and the grades you've received. Because your academic work is a key part of the college admission process, you should certain things in mind when selecting classes and submitting your transcript.

How classes are organized
Some high schools operate on a "block" or semester system (where students take fewer, longer classes each term), while others operate on a full-year system (where all classes are taken throughout the whole year).

In the case of a semester system, admission officials realize that they have to make decisions before they see final grades (or any grades in some cases) in some important senior subjects. However, it's essential that as part of your college admission requirements, you indicate which classes are planned. For example, if your first semester transcript includes English, a foreign language, and history, but you expect to start calculus and physics in January, it should be made clear on your application.

If your school uses a block system, make certain that this is made clear to admission officials so they'll realize that what may look like a single semester of a subject was really the equivalent of a full year course.

Number of major subjects taken
Admission officers expect to see a minimum of five solid subjects per term, plus at least one elective or minor subject (e.g., band, art — a "major" in some schools, yearbook, etc.). At schools on block or trimester systems or at some independent schools, fewer solids per term will be the norm. No matter how high you are aiming, you will be well served by pursuing a secondary school program that exceeds the basic college admissions requirements.

Level of coursework
The most competitive colleges also expect that applicants will select the most challenging courses available. Make sure you get proper credit in the college admissions process for the level of coursework you performed. If there is a tracking system at your school, where students are grouped by ability, the transcript should indicate if classes have been at the highest level (e.g., Honors, Enriched, Level 1) or at a lower one (Standard, Level 2).

Universally recognized courses
Ordinarily, Advanced Placement and IB classes, if offered, are the top-level courses taught in high schools and are well respected by all college officials. Because of their universal recognition, they jump off a transcript. If you are seeking college admissions assistance and your schools offers these advanced courses, you may want to challenge yourself and show colleges what you can do.

Schools that list Advanced Placement classes (usually for juniors and seniors) enable you to take classes which may lead to college credit. Some secondary schools offer Advanced Placement courses in over a dozen subjects; others offer far fewer (or none at all).

International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are increasingly available in secondary schools in the U.S. and abroad. Initially designed for those who might be heading to non-American universities, this system is gaining stateside popularity among high schools interested in providing a widely acclaimed and challenging curriculum for strong students who can also gain college credit through IB participation and testing.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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