Ivy League Admission Tips: Strategies for a Strong Transcript

A competitive transcript is one of the most important elements of an outstanding college admissions profile. If your grades are excellent and reflect your academic interests and goals, the admissions officers at top colleges will likely be impressed. As with every other aspect of your admissions profile, the key is to make sure your transcript matches your unique admissions theme and narrative.

Still, it can be challenging to make your transcript stand out. The following Ivy League admission strategies will help you develop a strong transcript by being aware of your school’s grading policies, choosing challenging courses carefully, and mitigating the impact of any poor grades.

Be Aware of Your School’s Grading Policies

High schools around the country calculate and report grades in a variety of ways. At some high schools, the GPA is based on a four-point scale that correlates to the letter grade assigned in class. This is probably the most well-known grading system.

But many high schools use variations of this system, and some use a different system altogether. As you enter high school, you should be aware of your school’s grading policy and adapt your expectations accordingly. For example, if your high school uses a tough grading scale, a strong grade might be in the high 80s or low 90s. Admissions officers are aware that some schools use tougher grading scales and that students from such schools will have to work harder to get good grades. The opposite is also true: if your school’s grading scale is particularly easy, you should have stronger grades.

You should also consider your school’s grading policies when deciding how much effort to invest in your classes. For example, some schools report letter grades with pluses and minuses, but others don’t. If your high school reports only the letter grade without pluses and minuses, an A- is as good as an A. In such cases, if the effort to get an A in one class would result in a B+ in another, it would be better to get an A- in both.

You should perform well within your high school’s grading context, whatever it may be. Admissions officers are aware of how schools differ in their grading policies, and they adjust their expectations accordingly.

Challenging Courses vs. Good Grades

One of the dilemmas you will face as you try to develop a challenging course load is not knowing whether the coursework will be too difficult to handle. For example, you may be able to get an A in AP Calculus BC, but if you take many other challenging courses, you may not be able to get an A in every class.

The keys to solving this dilemma are self-awareness, timing, and careful strategy. It’s never too early to start planning for the academic rigors of high school.

You need to focus on your strengths and play to those strengths whenever possible. Don’t select advanced classes simply because they are available. Rather, select advanced classes that fit your narrative and will allow you to excel.

Timing and strategy are vital if you must take a course that is likely to prove challenging. If, for instance, you know you are not great at math, Calculus may be a struggle. If possible, try to take an honors Pre-Calculus class before taking AP Calculus AB. In any case, make sure not to take more challenging courses than you can handle.

What If You Get Some Poor Grades?

If you get one or more low grades, you should address the situation proactively. One of the most important steps is to ensure that your counselor understands the extenuating circumstances that led to the poor grades. If your counselor understands your situation, they may include an explanation in your letter of recommendation.

In addition to talking about the situation with your guidance counselor, you should also inform the admissions office of each school to which you apply. Make sure not to assign blame or make excuses. Instead, you should simply explain what happened, how it affected your grades, and what you learned from the whole situation. Doing so will demonstrate perseverance and a positive outlook despite circumstances—qualities that are valued by top colleges.

As you begin high school and start to plan your academic goals, you should keep these Ivy League admission tips in mind. Planning your course load strategically will allow you to craft an outstanding applicant profile.