Transcript Writing

A transcript is basically a class-by-class listing of a student’s high school career, the grades received, and the time period involved. A transcript is requested by college admission personnel to evaluate what college classes your student will be able to handle, whether your student is eligible for any academic scholarships, and generally what type of person they can expect your student to be. When a student has been homeschooled through high school, their classes have often been personally tailored to their own interests and may, therefore, lie outside traditional expectations.

First, let me say that no one’s transcript comes down from Mount Sinai. Every transcript is produced by some human being on a computer or typewriter somewhere, so let that eliminate your first fear right here, right now. The same goes for homeschool diplomas: design your own or use a prepared template without guilt, because that is how all diplomas originate. College or job applications frequently ask if you have a high school diploma, and printing your own for a completed homeschool education will fulfill that requirement.

Writing a high school transcript is not a complicated exercise, but it does require a little preparation. If you have a homeschool student already in high school or one who will soon be in high school, begin writing their transcript now. At this point, you only need to keep a rough record of what subjects they are doing, the texts used, and any extra-curricular activities. Polishing this list into a finely-honed transcript will come later when they are preparing to apply to colleges or will need the transcript for job applications. A motivated student is capable of maintaining these records himself, but the point is to keep the records. Voice of Experience: One person’s memory is a remarkably inefficient source when you suddenly find yourself typing up four years’ worth of educational activities in one evening.

My children’s high school classes did not follow a strict semester schedule or fall neatly into four 9-month blocks. I would suspect that many of you have students on the same, typical homeschool, non-scheduled “schedule.” For that reason, we formatted our transcripts by listing the “Date Completed” for each class (month/year), instead of trying to establish artificial grade levels of 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. The course titles were then grouped together by subject (earliest first) and listed in an order that put recognizable subjects at the top of the list and digressed to the less-important, non-academic courses. Your students’ transcripts should be individually tailored for their specific goals: a student planning to major in music at college should have a transcript which gives preference to musical training and performance; a student desiring a career in engineering should have a transcript which gives preference to math and science courses.

Because of the personal nature of home education, we did not send a simple one-page transcript to colleges. Think transcript “packet” here, because I am usually referring collectively to the entire packet, consisting of three documents: the Transcript itself (list of courses taken and grades received), Course Descriptions (brief explanations of the unusual courses and what texts were used), and Extra-Curricular Activities (covering group activities such as team sports or church youth group, and work experience — both paid and voluntary).

Right now, while your student is still in high school, it is a valuable effort to keep track of every book read — both factual and fiction, both for schoolwork and for pleasure reading. We included a “Literature Reading List” at the end of the Course Descriptions document, separated into American authors and foreign authors. This list was primarily works read during the last two years of high school, since that is primarily when public schools offer literature classes. Various forms of prose and poetry were covered, often referred to as “assorted works” by certain authors.

The many other books read during high school were grouped together and given course descriptions. My daughter read most of the “Uncle Eric” books by Richard Maybury, then grouped them to make courses called “Economics” (Whatever Happened to Penny Candy and The Clipper Ship Strategy) and “Introduction to Law” (The Thousand Year War in the Mideast, Ancient Rome–How It Affects You Today, and Whatever Happened to Justice?). Her dedication to a hobby of collecting antique clothing buttons became a course in art history, citing a reference book on buttons in art periods for the text. An assortment of Presidential biographies was awarded the course title “Introduction to Politics.” My son’s piano lessons counted for high school credit, as well as the time he spent teaching himself guitar and percussion.

When my daughter made the decision to take chemistry at our local community college (earning high school credit from me, plus the college credit), she quickly sped up the pace of her senior year of high school. Completing most of her homeschool work over the summer left her fall semester free for concentrating on the college class. When the spring semester rolled around, my daughter enrolled in English Composition I — which was listed on her high school transcript as “English 5.” Listing the “date completed” for high school courses de-emphasized the speed with which some courses were finished, since no starting date was included. Courses which may have required extra time were also hard to spot, since completion dates occurred in nearly every month.

Special notes on the transcript indicated that our credits were assigned on the same Carnegie standard used by most public schools and colleges. Asterisks denoted any course taken from the local college, and a note further explained that these courses were taken at the college, from college professors, with other college students. An advisor at the college encouraged me to make that notation on the transcripts I made up for my students, saying, “That is more impressive to us than a student who takes a college class at the high school, from a high school teacher, with other high school students. The classes may look identical, but the only thing they have in common is the textbook.”

Some of you are very anxious about assigning grades on a high school transcript. I gave A’s all the way down the line, and I did not feel guilty about it. Several years ago, I listened in as a dear friend was advising a fellow homeschool mom about preparing her daughter’s transcript. The advisor was currently a teacher at the public middle school and acting as the family’s supervising teacher for their homeschool. Her advice was to give nothing less than an A, because the work done by the homeschooled students was far superior to anything being required at the public school! Since that time, whenever I questioned my children’s homeschool productivity, I looked for evidence of what was being accepted at the public institution, and I dismissed the guilt immediately.

Other goodies to include on the transcript are a graduation date, ACT or SAT score, social security number, address and phone number. The graduation date is an affirmation to the college admissions department that your child actually has completed high school. (We used the phrase “anticipated graduation date” when submitting the document for a scholarship application during my son’s senior year.) College application forms usually ask for your graduation date, so pick one and print it on the diploma; ceremonies and celebrations are optional. Midwestern colleges prefer ACT test scores, while coastal schools seem to desire the SAT. Some colleges will accept the score on your say-so; others will only accept an official document sent to them directly from the testing organization. The student’s name, address, telephone number, birthdate, and Social Security number need to be printed at the top of the first page for easy reference. Any subsequent pages should have the student’s name and SSN reprinted at the top. A photograph of the student is also a good thing to include, although it is not always required. Include a line at the bottom of the transcript for your signature as the principal instructor for your homeschool and date the signature for authenticity.

The one thing about homeschooling through high school that tends to scare off most families is the thought of being accepted into college. Now you have the basic skill for conquering the transcript. A little creative thinking can turn even a seemingly mundane homeschool experience into a list of unique, custom-fit courses.

For further reference, see the book “And What About College?” by Cafi Cohen.

UPDATE: Home School Legal Defense Association is now offering record keeping services, including Transcripts, GPA calculation, report cards, etc — suitable for state records or college applications. Go to the HSLDA website and look for PerX.

See Sample Transcript & Diploma for examples.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

List credit on your student’s high school transcript for non-traditional classes. It may not be a “recognized” curriculum title, but if it is a learned skill that they have developed, it proves they have the ability to teach themselves.

For example, if the student has devoted considerable time to an independent project (stamp-collecting, designing/making beaded bracelets, training horses, digital photo-editing, etc), think up a course title and write an appropriate description for it, listing any reference books as “texts used.” Include out-of-classroom work as well, such as seminars attended, etc. The “course descriptions” page of their transcript will provide the complete explanation. (If you are interested in how to write a transcript, see Transcript Writing.)

Listening to CSN radio (or to your pastor’s Sunday teaching) counts as Bible class; just because you have always listened to it, and would listen to it anyway, does not mean it should be overlooked as a “credit” course. The same applies to AWANAs, Sunday School, Royal Rangers, or similar structured classes your students attend.