I opened the transcript file that a new client sent over for me to review. I scanned the numbers. 3.8 GPA. 1330 SAT. Looking good.
But then I did the squint test. You know what I’m talking about, right? You squint and your vision becomes clearer?
Well, that’s what I do. Whether I’m looking at a new client’s high school plan or approving a teen’s transcript, I squint to be sure I see everything - not just the obvious.
And this transcript could have used a clearer vision at the beginning of high school.
Like so many homeschoolers, you might think that GPA and SAT/ACT scores matter most. In theory, you’re right. But there’s more. College admissions officers are looking for much more than numbers while looking at your transcript.
If you’re in the early high school years, I’m going to show you 3 things to consider when mapping out your high school plan. If your homeschooler is about to apply to colleges, I’m going to show you what a college really sees when looking at your teen’s transcript.
1. What a 4x5 plan is and why every college bound homeschooler should have one.
2. Why outside evidence makes your homeschooler more credible.
3. How to improve academic grades and rigor each year.
Hold on tight. You may not like what I’m about to say. You may say my advice is over the top and not necessary for every student. Of course, there are exceptions. And, of course, you can choose your own path; that’s the beauty of homeschooling. But hear me out.
Every college bound homeschooler benefits from a high school filled with 4 years of each core subject - including foreign language.
Yup. I think it’s our responsibility to leave doors open for our kids and it’s just plain hard knowing how to do that in 8th grade when you start mapping out a high school plan. The 4x5 Plan (4 years of the 5 core subjects) is a surefire way to prepare your teen for whatever path they eventually choose - whether that’s a top tier school or no college at all.
If you’re homeschooling to give your teen a strong and unique education, give it to them. Don’t look at state requirements or college requirements and stop there. Give your child a full and vibrant education.
I’m not the only one who likes to see 4 years of each subject. Colleges want your teen to challenge themselves academically and this is one way to show them that they did.
Top tier schools, especially, expect to see at least 4 years of each core subject.
Look at what NYU says about their high school recommendations:
We find students are best prepared for NYU if they’ve studied the following subjects:
English/Writing - 4 years
History/Social Studies - 3 to 4 years
Mathematics - 3 to 4 years
Laboratory Sciences - 3 to 4 years
Foreign Language - 3 to 4 years
Note: Our top applicants have taken demanding coursework in the above subjects for four years.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what schools list as their recommendations. You can apply no matter what. But, the real question is, will your teen be a strong applicant?
For the most selective schools, you need to have those 4 years to remain competitive.
But what if a top tier school isn’t in your future?
You have your own reasons for homeschooling high school. And so does your teen. Of course you should honor that first and foremost.
But you don’t need to give up your values for the 4x5 Plan.
Your homeschool high school schedule doesn’t need to include the most rigorous of courses. Foreign language class can be split into two years. Certain classes can be taken in the summer.
Don’t change the philosophy of your homeschool. Just change the way you structure it.
Above all, choose the classes that fit your teen best!
You’ve probably heard the term before.
It is said that homeschoolers should have outside evidence for colleges to take their transcript seriously. And, well, in many cases, it’s true. Admissions officers love to see homeschoolers with experiences and validation outside of their homeschool.
Think about it. Most teens submit a transcript with plenty of context. The admissions officer is familiar with their school. They’re familiar with the success of admitted students from that school.
Homeschoolers, on the other hand, have none of that context. It can be a bit hard for admissions officers to trust a grade that a parent has given.
1. Outside instructors provide an objective view of your homeschooler. They can judge the quality of your teen’s work against others. AND they can write letters of recommendation!!
2. Outsourced classes provide community and peer interaction. Colleges like to know that the students they’re admitting understand the value and impact that being a positive member of their community has on the dynamics of learning.
3. Standardized testing provides a way to compare your homeschooler to others in the same peer group.
When your homeschooler takes online classes or Dual Enrollment classes, it’s a win-win. Sure, colleges love it. But it’s also a great way for your teen to learn time management, meet deadlines, and earn grades. Something they’ll need to be ready for when they step foot on campus!
In the admissions field, we call this an upward trend - something every admissions officer likes to see when looking at a transcript.
When looking at the overall picture of your 4 year transcript, you should see a steady improvement in your teen’s grades and increase in your teen’s course rigor.
Let’s say your teen is a B student in 9th grade, taking regular, academic classes.
In 10th and 11th grades, they should sprinkle in a few more challenging classes and earn higher grades than previous years. By 12th grade, classes should be even more rigorous with even stronger grades.
For those reaching for top schools, an increase in focus is always a plus.
Why do schools want to see this? Two reasons:
1. They want your teen to be at the top of their game, ready to face the rigors of college life.
2. They want your teen to continue with that upward trend once on their campus.
So, when mapping out next year’s course schedule or all 4 years of high school, give serious consideration to how you can make it happen for your homeschooler.
When I use the term “rigor” I’m referring to the rigor that’s best for your homeschooler. It doesn’t have to be the most rigorous if that’s not a good fit.
But, do consider all of this when mapping out your high school or planning next year’s classes or deciding between a subject transcript or dated transcript.
When squinting at your homeschool transcript, what will they see?
Bingo. You now know what colleges want…beyond GPA and SAT scores.
Even if your homeschooler isn’t applying to the most selective schools, the three strategies I’ve shared above are a great way to demonstrate that your homeschooler is ready to excel on a school’s campus and in their classrooms…and, for the schools that offer merit aid (academic scholarships), they’ll be rewarded with money!
No, the most selective schools don’t offer merit aid or academic scholarships, but for the schools that do? When they look at your transcript, they’ll see you’ve given them what they’re looking for.
The one with a 3.8 GPA and 1330 SAT? Well, I didn’t need to squint for very long. As a rising senior interested in applying to more selective schools, their transcript didn’t look like a competitive one. Only 3 years of each subject. Academic classes in 11th after taking honors in 10th. No strong teacher recommendations because all classes were done at home.
Sure, the kid will get into some great schools. But I have to break it to his family. The current list isn’t realistic. The list needs to change. The mindset shift needs to be swift.
It’s almost too late.
Now you know how to plan. Now you know what schools want to see beyond the obvious grades and scores:
Grab your 4 Year Homeschool High School Template below (straight from my Homeschool to College Planner). It’s a Google Doc!
How to Create a Homeschool Transcript for the Common Application
How to Create a Transcript That Colleges Will Love
The Ultimate Guide to Homeschool Credits for High School
How to Be Your Homeschooler’s Guidance Counselor
What’s the most frustrating bit of mapping out the 4 year plan for you?