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What Does Your High School Transcript Say About You?
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You're probably (painfully) aware that your high school transcript is a record of every grade you earned in high school– and that all of those grades are averaged to produce a single number, your cumulative GPA.
But admissions officer have their eyes on more than the bottom line. There are other things they examine to get a sense of what kind of college student you'll be.
In case you were thinking they weren't important, now you know otherwise. Your freshman grades make up (approximately) one–quarter of your cumulative high school GPA. If you tank freshman year, it will follow you for the next three years. (That includes art class, gym class, music class or anything for which you receive a grade.)
Pass / Fail
Don't elect to take a pass / fail. To colleges, a "P" might as well be a "D".
Colleges expect your grades to be consistent or improve. If you received As in sophomore year, and Cs in senior year, they will conclude that you are a capable student who became lazy.
High school graduation requirements vary from school to school. Most students have the opportunity to take more classes (or credits) then are required to graduate. If you take only the minimum, colleges will conclude that you are doing the least you must do to get by.
If you take extra classes (or credits) but they are soft-ball classes (like basket-weaving or calisthenics), this looks just as bad.
The best high school transcript will show consistent grades in a challenging course load with challenging classes. AP classes or advanced classes impress colleges and tell them that you are ready for college–level work.