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How Will Colleges View My High School Transcript?

Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

How will colleges view my high school transcript?
By Stephen Friedfeld, PhD

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.


Stephen Friedfeld is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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