Inside Admissions Committee: Transcripts for Home Schooled Students
by Steve Ahn, copyright 2016

“Wow, based on this transcript, we have to admit this student!” – is something I’ve never heard an admissions committee member or application reviewer ever say.

Too bad. Or is it?

Academic performance particularly as evidenced on the transcript used to be a predominant factor in admissions. Now it’s far less so. That’s not to say it’s less important in an absolute sense. On the contrary, for the most competitive colleges, think of outstanding academic performance as a first hurdle. The transcript is just one part of the academic performance picture but in the case of home schooled students, it’s sometimes like a recommendation letter – something that can’t help much but can hurt a lot. Add to the mix the fact that the number of applications from home schooled students is increasing every year, and the transcript becomes more of an obscure subjective variable rather than a consistent quantifiable factor.

Consider a common home schooled student’s transcript. I’ve never seen a transcript for a home schooled student that ever had a grade that wasn’t an A or A-minus. This reflects a dilemma for many home school teachers: grades can’t be low; if some are, well the student must really be an academic underperformer – right? And if all the grades are high, well of course – what parent wouldn’t “give” their own child an “A”?

This might explain why grades for parent-taught subjects are sometimes ignored. Even legitimate straight-A’s reflect a common grading approach parent-teachers use, which is to eschew tests and have the student keep working on graded work until A-level work is achieved.

So if perfect GPAs are suspicious, what about slightly imperfect GPAs to reflect objectivity? Sorry. Unless the grading is performed by an independent third-party on standardized materials, home-school grades will always be suspect by some. Because of these issues, some colleges don’t even require transcripts from home schooled applicants.

For those colleges that do require transcripts for home-schooled students, they can take on a different meaning. Since among other aspects of a home-schooled student’s transcript, there is no guaranty of consistent unrelated third-party objectivity in grading, no way to similarly measure class rank, and no comparably standardized grading approach, transcripts for a home-schooled student commonly serve as a coefficient to
weighing other areas of the application. The loftier the home schooled transcript, the greater the already high weighting on the rest of the application – for example, the essays and interview, third-party summer programs, third-party advanced courses often online, standardized test scores (like SAT, ACT and AP exam scores), outside academic awards in competitions (like state foreign language tests, national math & science competition placings), and other academically related accomplishments like scholarship and NationalMerit awards. This information enables an admissions evaluator to compare the homeschooled student’s academic performance to those of other students enrolled in regular
high schools. (But don’t despair. Transcripts from different regular schools aren’t really that comparable either.)

Regardless, all course grades should be shown, and a GPA should be calculated just like on a regular high school transcript. The content areas and format of a home schooled student’s transcript should mirror those of an accredited high school student’s transcript. There is no shortage of websites that offer templates, with the most effective approach being to simply emulate the transcript from the local public high school that the student would have attended.

Additional content is also helpful. For example, course listings should be as detailed as possible with particular attention to topic listings and level. Additional information such as the text book and other learning materials used can only help. If courses are takenonline or through third-party programs, comparative data if available of other student’s scores should be included. Any way to exemplify competitive performance should be included since home schooled students have no class rank nor do they compete for class distinctions in the traditional sense. Grade descriptions, guidelines, and rubrics can help and should parallel those used in area schools.

Also, make sure to avoid common mistakes. Many transcripts for home schooled students fail to be official. It should be signed, notarized, and dated by the equivalent of the school principal. It should be mailed to the college in a sealed envelope with the principal's signature over the seal. A statement should also be included that verifies that the student will have completed the graduation requirements of the state by the anticipated graduation date. All teachers (for each course wherever applicable) and “school officials”should disclose the nature of the relationship to the student, for example, “Parent”. Teacher’s degree credentials should follow the name, particularly in the case of masters
or PhD credentials.

So the good news overall, is that your home schooled student has about as fair and reasonable of a contextual opportunity to prove his or her academic qualifications for admissions to any college compared to any other student. Interestingly enough, the 5% to 20% of the home schooled applicants admitted to Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth, and other highly competitive colleges are similar to the percentages admitted who were not home schooled.

It all just goes to show, that academically, the student’s strengths, achievements, and potential should be exemplified everywhere not just in the transcript, which is a very different animal now – species and size-wise.
Steve Ahn is an admissions application reviewer and interviewer for Emory University and the University of Pennsylvania / Wharton and a college consultant. He also leads seminars on college planning, application content, essays, and interviewing. Read more about him at or contact him at or