Translating the Transcript

Admit It! The admission process is intriguing.  There’s such curiosity surrounding how admission decisions are made that the entire field seems shrouded in a mystique of its own creation.  Well, the goal of our Admit It! Blog has always been, and will always be to demystify the process.  In response to a recent post on WM Admission’s Facebook wall , we will provide posts about each individual component of the application and the role it plays in our process throughout the summer.  We will let you know what we’re looking for out of each individual component, how we place that component in context, and what weight the component carries in the overall review process.

So first things first, the transcript (insert Halloween movie narrator voice to provide the right amount of emphasis and apprehension).  Probably not a lot of mystery here.  We review the transcript to evaluate your course rigor and your grades.  Let’s start with course rigor.  We look to see that you challenge yourself more with each passing year.  So if you took one AP course sophomore year for example, we like to see you build on that junior year with maybe two or three AP courses.  And of course build on that your senior year.  There is no prescribed number of AP courses that we expect to see.  That depends very much on the school you attend.  If IB is offered at your high school, we encourage you to enroll in the full diploma program.  While we do not require any specific courses for admission, we do recommend and like to see a math sequence which culminates in calculus, completion of the fourth level of a single foreign language and a science curriculum which includes biology, chemistry and physics.  To us, these classes are the benchmarks of a rigorous high school curriculum.

Do not, I repeat do not, overtax yourself.  Taking too many challenging courses to the detriment of your grades is not wise (and not fun).  Take the most challenging curriculum in which you can be successful.  We always get asked if it’s better to take the harder course and get a B or the easier course and get an A.  Well the answer is none of the above.  It’s better to take the harder class and get an A.  That’s funny and mean all at the same time.  It’s also true.  Our applicant pool is full of wonderfully bright and intellectual students who do incredibly well academically.  Many if not most of them take the harder courses and get As.  However, again, if a class is going to do undo damage to your grades and your enjoyment of learning, don’t take it.  Getting a C or a D in a hard course won’t help you get into college, and it won’t make your senior year enjoyable.  Side note: if any scheduling conflicts arise, we encourage you to note those in your application (and have your counselor do the same in his/her recommendation letter) so that we can take any scheduling anomalies into account.

Okay, so what about grades.  William & Mary does not have an average GPA.  How could we when students applying from Fairfax County use a weighted 4.0 scale, students from Richmond use a weighted 5.0 scale, students from New York use an unweighted 100. scale, and some independent schools in New England, just to be different, use 7. scales?  Believe me, none of us got into admission work because we are good at math.  There’s no reasonable way for us to take all of these scales and condense them into one standardized grading scale.  So instead we look at the grades behind your GPA.  We like to see As and Bs – hopefully more As than Bs.  We also look at grade trends; not surprisingly upward trends are preferable to downward trends, and consistent strong grades are preferable to both.  We do use class rank if provided as a measure of how well you are doing in relation to your peers.  About 80% of W&M students graduated in the top decile of their high school class.

Context is incredibly important to our process and to reviewing your transcript.  Our friends on the college counseling side supply us with a lot of good information that provides a lens through which we should view your transcript.  Your guidance counselor will provide us information about both your course rigor and your grades.  For example, they will let us know how many AP classes your school offers (we know enough math to know that taking five of eight is pretty stellar and taking three of 20 is not), whether or not your school uses block scheduling (we know that can lead to scheduling drama), whether or not the number of AP classes you can take is limited by school policy (we can’t exactly hold you accountable for not taking more AP classes when in fact your forbidden from doing so), what the highest GPA in your class is (so even if your school doesn’t rank its students we get some info on which to make an assessment which is especially helpful when your GPA is a 92; if the high is a 95 that’s pretty good, if the high is a 105…mmm not so much), what the grading scale is (for example is 90-100 an A or is 93-100 an A) and how demanding your curriculum is overall (the Common Application provides a liker scale ranging from below average to most demanding).

We will also be provided a profile so that we can familiarize ourselves with your school.  The profile will tell us how many students at your high school go onto two-year and four-year colleges, what the average SAT /ACT score is for the high school, county and state, it will highlight any special academic programs offered, and provide us information on the area in which the high school is located.  It is this information that allows us to determine if your schedule is in fact rigorous (for example maybe your high school offers few AP courses but has a governor’s school program that provides dual enrollment or additional AP courses).  It is this information that helps us gauge whether the grades you are receiving are average, above average or exceptional.  There are schools out there with little to no grade inflation; where the average grade across the board is a B.  If few As are given at that school, then the student with the B+ average is one of the top students at that school.  It is from this information that we glean that the Spanish program was cut at your high school prohibiting you from taking the fourth level of a foreign language.

So how important is your transcript?  The answer is very.  While there is no mathematical formula to the way that we review an application and no specific numeric weights given to any one factor, the transcript does matter to us a bit more than everything else.  Evaluating your course selection and performance helps us to assess how well prepared you are for W&M academics.

So there you have it.  The transcript and its role in our admission process in plain English…at least we hope.  If you are left with lingering questions, post a comment, call our office or email us.  We are happy to advise you further.

Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission

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