Effects of High School Change--and Country Change, Too

Question: How will a college/university admissions officer consider grades/GPA if I moved to a different school in a different country half way through high school, especially when my former school only provides unweighted GPA out of 4.0 and my current school only provides weighted GPA out of 4.8? Will this greatly affect my chances of getting in?

College admission officials are accustomed to evaluating students who attend more than one high school. Although it's less common for them to see applicants who relocate to a new country during their high school years, that's still familiar turf for most of them. So, for starters, you don't have to worry that your move will have any negative impact on your admission odds. In fact, it could actually turn out to be at least a small plus because the admission folks will value your bi-cultural experience, especially if you are able to point out the highlights in an essay or interview or in the “Additional Information" section of your applications.

So that's the good news. But the bad news is that you may have to do a little extra work to make sure that admission committees are up to speed on your situation (and applying to college means plenty of work already, even without this add-on!).

When a student enters a new high school (we'll call it “School #2" … clever, eh? 😉 ) after starting elsewhere (“School #1), it's important that college officials see the courses and grades from both schools, and it's also critical that they understand the grading systems at both schools. When it's time for you to apply to college, the guidance staff at School #2 will send out a transcript that includes your courses and grades at that school. They may also enter the courses and grades from School #1 on this same transcript or they might leave the section for those earlier grades blank. It's also possible that School #2 obtained a transcript from School #1 when you transferred and will make a copy of that transcript to send to colleges. So, depending on the transcript-delivery practices at School #2, you will have certain “Action Items" on your plate. I'll get to those in a minute.

In addition, if School #2 is in the USA, your transcript should also arrive in college admission offices with a “School Profile." This is a document that outlines the grading system at that school and also provides other information that can vary. Typically it includes facts such as median SAT/ACT scores, demographic details about the student body and surrounding community, AP or other advanced classes offered, and often a list of colleges where previous seniors have enrolled. If, however, your School #2 is NOT in the USA, it's possible that no official School Profile is available. Thus, it would be very helpful to college admission officials for you to create your own School Profile for them by briefly explaining the grading system, how GPA is calculated, and by supplying any other information about the school that you think might help admission committees evaluate you in the context of your school policies and environment. Similarly, your colleges should also receive a School #1 Profile … either an official one or your own version.

So now here are your “Action Items" …

  1. Talk to the guidance staff at School #2 (or to whomever is responsible for submitting materials to colleges. International schools don't always have a guidance office). Ask how your grades from School #1 will be handled. For instance, will they appear on your School #2 transcript? If so, will it be clearly stated that the grades come from a different school? Or will School #2 leave that section blank? Does School #2 have your transcript from School #1? If so, will they send it to colleges along with the School #2 transcript?
  1. Next, do whatever it takes to get your School #1 courses and grades to your target colleges. If School #2 does not have a copy of your old transcript or if they haven't added your School #1 grades to your current transcript, then it's up to you (or a parent) to contact School #1 and ask for a copy of your transcript to be sent directly to your target colleges OR to School #2 for inclusion in your application materials.
  1. Make sure that all colleges also receive a School Profile from BOTH of your high schools. As noted above, if no official profile is available, write up your own summary, clearly indicating the grading system and whether or not your grades were weighted.
  1. Use the “Additional Information" section of your applications or a separate letter or email to point out any special circumstances that your transfer to a new school generated. For example, one young woman in my orbit attended a very rigorous private school for two years. This school did not offer any honors or Advanced Placement classes because ALL classes were considered to be upper level. But then she transferred to a much less demanding public school. When computing her Grade Point Average, the public school officials insisted on counting all of her private school classes as non-honors or “unweighted" because, technically, that's how they'd been labeled. So this girl ended up with a much lower weighted GPA and class rank than many of her public school classmates who had taken mostly Honors or AP classes at the public school. Although she had all A's at her private school as well as at the public one, her weighted GPA fell well below those of the other good students in her class, as did her rank. So this is the type of situation that needs to be explained to colleges.

As you can see, your change of schools will probably create some twists and turns as you wade through the college selection and application quagmire. Yet the challenges you've faced and the atypical experiences you've had can also be turned into admissions advantages because they may help to set you apart from the crowd.