Preparing for College

High School Profiles

Question: I was told that my college applications will include a "School Profile." Can you please explain what that is?

Every time a high school sends a transcript to a college or university where one of its students has applied, that transcript should (at least in theory) include a "School Profile."

The profile provides admission officials with a lot of data about the applicant's school that can be helpful when making admission decisions. Sure, many admission folks are very familiar with the schools in the regions they cover, and they don't need to read a profile to know that one school has a challenging curriculum that includes many Advanced Placement offerings, while another--perhaps just down the road--doesn't have a single AP class on the roster. But profiles go a long way in assisting admission staff members with the daunting task of comparing thousands of seemingly qualified students from nearly as many schools, including those that may be new turf for them.

While parents and students often never see the profile that their target colleges receive, it's an excellent idea to ask your guidance counselor for a copy of yours. Take a close look and see if it includes all or most of the following:

1. Information about the community in which the school is located (socioeconomic background of residents, racial and ethnic breakdowns, anything that makes the area unique, etc.).

2. Number of students in the school and per grade.

3. Information about where previous seniors have gone to college (At the very least this should include a percentage of those going to 4-year colleges and 2-year colleges; Much more helpful, however, is a list that includes specific college names. For instance, the profile could say "In the past five years, our graduates have attended .... " and list ALL the colleges. If the list is too long, it should name the colleges where more than one or two students have enrolled and also include any elite colleges that students have attended.)

4. Very clear data about which classes are Advanced Placement, honors, etc. If your school has restrictions on how many AP or honors classes a student can take in one semester (or if certain classes are mutually exclusive--e.g., AP Chem is scheduled at the same time as AP Bio) then the profile should so. If there are no AP or honors classes at all, it should specifically state that, too.

It's also useful to include the "highest" class offered in each subject, if there's no obvious AP class listed. For instance, if a transcript says that an applicant has taken Latin through Latin III, admission folks want to know whether that's the most Latin the school offers or whether there are additional classes available.

5. An explanation of the ranking system, if your school ranks. Are ranks and grades weighted for those enrolled in honors or AP classes?

6. An explanation of the grading system (though most are fairly obvious and this won't require a lot of time or space unless there are anomalies). If the school doesn't rank, it's also helpful if there is a graph or chart that shows GPA distribution.

7. Explanation of any special programs the school offers (e.g, dual enrollment, where students can take classes at a nearby college; work co-op programs; Gifted and Talented programs, "magnet" programs, etc. )

8. If the school is on the "block system" or any other atypical plan (e.g., trimesters).

As you comb through your school's profile, ask yourself what an admission official should know that might not be obvious from a transcript, and then see if it's included in the profile. For instance, if British Literature is an honors class, it sure doesn't sound like it from the title alone. Does the profile explain? If you only took two major classes in the fall of your senior year because that's all your school's block schedule allows, does the profile point that out?

If you find that the profile doesn't cover issues that may be important at admission-decision time. be sure to alert your guidance counselor so that he or she can include them in your recommendation. (Often a note from you can help, too.) You also might want to go one step further on behalf of your junior and sophomore pals and lobby the school to update the profile and include important info that's been omitted.

Finally, there may be certain other peculiarities about your school that need to be revealed. If, for example, Mr. Snodgrass never gives a grade above a "B-," or AP Calc was taught all last spring by a sub with an ancient history background, then suggest to your counselor that this might be fodder for your recommendation. It could be very useful to admission officials, even though it's not the kind of information that will land in a profile.