52 Weeks to College: Week 15 — School Reports

Two applicants are applying to the same college. They both have a 3.99 GPA. Will the admissions officer give them the same academic rating while evaluating their files?

Not necessarily.

Why not? Because not all 3.99 GPAs are created equal. Maybe student A has gotten top grades in the toughest classes at the most competitive schools, while student B has gotten top grades in the easiest classes at the least competitive schools. Those GPAs aren't really the same. You know it. Admissions officers know it. Everyone knows it.

So how does an admissions officer actually figure out what your 3.99 GPA means?<--break->

That's where the school report comes in. It is a crash course for the admissions officer to learn about your high school so that he or she knows how to interpret your 3.99 GPA. The school report typically explains how the GPA is calculated and weighted; what your rank is in the class (if your school ranks); and how rigorous your courses are. What the admissions officer learns in your school report will have a direct bearing on your academic rating. 

So if admissions officers are going to be scrutinizing your school report, you should know what's in it and how an admissions officer will interpret it. We include our top tips for school reports below, and you can also find more information about them in chapter 18 of our book.

(Note that we call it a "school report" because that's what the Common Application calls it. Some colleges have other names for these reports, like "secondary school report" or "counselor recommendation." Treat those all as the same thing.)

Week 15 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Draft your 6th application.
  • Interview with your colleges.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. 
  • Meet with college representatives.
  • Continue working on your CSS/PROFILE forms and college financial aid applications.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)

Tips & Tricks

1. Educate yourself about the types of school reports and the kinds of information in them. There are several different kinds of reports: the original school report, the midyear report, the final report. Everything but the original report is just an update to that original report, so don't get bogged down by the names. Your school will submit the original report around the same time that you submit your application. Depending on circumstances, there might also be additional reports: typically optional reports, international reports, or homeschool reports. 

2. Check out your own transcript. You are required to provide official transcripts from every school you have attended since ninth grade. On the transcript, the admissions officer will be able to scrutinize your grades, identify trends and patterns, and spot markers of brilliance or slackerdom. What trends do you see? What do your transcripts say about you? Are there any shining stars or black holes? Also make sure the information is accurate!

3. Make sure the school profile serves you. Because an admissions officer might not know much about your high school, the school report will include a school profile. It should give some basic information about your school (location, composition of the student body, public/private/boarding/military, accreditations); information about what advanced academic programs are available (AP? IB? honors courses? which ones?); the grading system; and a profile of the most recent graduating class (test results, grade distributions, regional/national/international academic awards, what kinds of colleges they went on to). If your high school doesn't post the school profile on its website, ask your college counselor for a copy. If the school profile is inaccurate, out of date, or lacking from your perspective, talk with your school counselor about addressing those problems. 

4. Follow up with your recommenders. Recommenders get busy and aren't necessarily paying attention to your deadlines the way you are. It is helpful for them if you check in and follow up to make sure your recommendations gets submitted on time. A short, polite e-mail is appropriate.

5. If you haven't already finished your early applications, drop everything and get those done!

You can read more tips around school reports and recommendations in chapters 18 and 19 of our book

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.