Sep 21, 2015

How a ‘high school profile’ makes or breaks a college application

ODU requires no essay, no recommendations and sometimes no scores
Encouraged by changes in membership policies implemented by the Common Application for 2015, a significant number of colleges streamlined admissions requirements and eliminated elements of what was once considered a “standard” application.  Gone are personal statements, counselor recommendations, teacher recommendations, and for a growing number of colleges and universities—test scores.
According to the Common App requirement grid and information provided on the FairTest website, out of 611 Common App members

  • About 20 percent do not require personal statements (the basic Common App essay)
  • Almost 40 percent do not require counselor recommendation
  • Over 45 percent require no teacher recommendations
  • About 30 percent are either test-optional or test-flexible (note that FairTest and the Common App differ slightly as to definitions for these policies)

So what’s left?  Grades and rigor of high school course work as provided on an official transcript provided by the high school.

But considering issues of grade inflation, manipulation and subjectivity, how do colleges assess the value of course and grade information?  By using a very handy tool called the high school “profile.”

For the record, profiles should be attached to every transcript sent as part of a complete “secondary school report” submitted to colleges.   

And given the crucial role this single document plays in the college admissions process, it’s shocking how few students and parents are familiar with their own school’s “official” profile.

For starters, virtually every high school has one.

And its value is enormous, as the profile officially translates your transcript into terms that college admissions offices can use to compare your record against those submitted by other candidates. It also helps readers evaluate a student’s performance relative to other applicants within the same 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.

“…as former admissions officers, we will tell you that a well-done school profile makes all the difference,” explains Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey, in How to Prepare a Standout College Application. “It gives a much richer context for evaluating an applicant’s academic abilities and achievements.”

A good high school profile will include
  • Basic school demographics
  • Grading system and how GPA’s are calculated
  • Class ranking policies
  • Scheduling system
  • Profile of most recent graduating class including grade distribution, national awards earned, standardized test score averages (ACT, SAT), and AP score distributions
  • Class offerings with an emphasis on honors, IB, or AP classes
  • 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, as many colleges scan profiles into their systems.

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 the 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 personal academic goals.

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

And 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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