Aug 23, 2013

What exactly is a High School Profile?

It’s surprising how few students and parents are familiar with their high school’s “profile.” 

This important document is attached to every transcript mailed as part of a complete “secondary school report” submitted to colleges.   

And virtually every high school has one.

In a nutshell, your school profile officially translates your transcript into terms college admissions offices can use to compare your record to those submitted by other college hopefuls. It also helps application readers evaluate your performance relative to other students in your school.

In other words, the profile places you in context of your school and your school in context of other schools in the district, state, and nation.

A good high school profile will include
  • Basic school demographics
  • Grading system and how GPA’s are calculated
  • Class ranking policies
  • Grade distribution
  • Class offerings with an emphasis on honors, IB, or AP classes
  • Standardized test score averages
  • AP score distributions
  • Percent of students attending 2- and 4-colleges
The most helpful profiles also explain class selection policies, prerequisite requirements, or general schedule restrictions affecting course options..  For example, if a school has a policy that limits the number of AP classes a student may take in one year, then that policy should be clearly stated.

And be aware that there’s a great deal of information that can be read “between the lines” of a high school profile.   For example, even high schools that claim not to rank students often provide a very exact GPA distribution that allows colleges to estimate or “force” a rank.

But despite the importance of these documents, variation among profiles—even in a single school district—can be startling.

Some are glossy and detailed; others are simple Xeroxed sheets. Some are up-to-date and specific; others are more generic.

And it’s not unusual for pricey private schools to produce 4-color, multi-page marketing pieces on behalf of their students.

Yet even knowing how crucial these documents are in the admissions process, school administrators sometimes put minimal effort into the preparation and presentation of statistical information critical in evaluating student credentials. Input on what should be included on the profile from those most affected—college-bound students and their families—is seldom sought.

The College Board has developed a detailed set of guidelines for the preparation of high school profiles.  In general, schools should limit their documents to one page—front and back—on regular (not glossy) 8.5” x 11” paper, using computer-friendly dark ink. 

Above all, high schools must update their profiles annually. They need to highlight changes in ranking and/or grading policies as well as document any alterations to curriculum or diploma requirements.

And by the way, the high school profile should never be a confidential document.  You should be permitted to review and maybe even comment on the document that will accompany your transcript to all colleges on your list.

In addition to seeing a copy of your school profile, you may also want to evaluate profiles from neighboring or competing schools to judge how yours compares. In fact, underclassmen and their families may want to use the profile to track how well the school is doing or to set academic goals.

Note that while some profiles are posted on the web, others are only available directly through school counseling offices.

If you think your school is not fairly or accurately represented by the profile, ask questions and get involved.

How you and your school stack up against the competition might well affect your admissions prospects.

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