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2013 September 22

Common App transcript

Filed under: home school — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:40
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As a homeschool parent, I have to do all the “school” parts of the Common App and other college applications, which means I have about as much work to do in filling out college applications as my son does.

The Common App was completely re-implemented this year, which means that there are piles of bugs, poor or non-existent documentation, and a very harried support staff.  Basically, everyone is pretty much on their own to figure out how to get stuff done—the interface is far from intuitive.  I posted earlier about how a home-school parent gets to become the counselor, but that only gets access—figuring out how to fill out all the parts of the application is still daunting.

There are three main things the home school parent needs to create:

  • a school profile,
  • a transcript, and
  • a counselor’s letter.

The school profile is the shortest and easiest.  This consists mainly of simple statements of fact (like the education levels of the parents) and the philosophy of the home school.  Around here, most public schools put their profiles on-line, so it is easy to see what the standard ones include.  A lot of it is irrelevant to home schoolers (number of students, demographics, percentage going on to 4-year colleges, …), but other parts are directly relevant.  Here is what I said on ours:

Mission and philosophy
The purpose of our home school is to provide Xxx with advanced educational opportunities in his passions (computer science, math, and theater) that are not available in the local public schools, while still preparing him for college admission at a top-rank university. We have a particular emphasis on long-term (6-month or longer) engineering projects.
Graduation requirements
Minimum graduation requirements were set to meet or exceed the standards for California high-school graduation and college admissions standards set by the University of California:

Laboratory Science 4 years English 4 years World History 1 year Physical Education 2 years
Math 4 years Foreign Language 3 years US History 1 year
Art or Theater 4 years Government 0.5 years
Economics 0.5 years

Courses are a mixture of ones taught by the parent-teachers, online courses, courses at Alternative Family Education (AFE), which is the local school district’s umbrella school for home schoolers, theater courses from West Performing Arts (WEST), Cabrillo Community College courses (Cab), and University of California courses (UCSC). Some of the high school curriculum was completed at a private high school (Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School; GBK) in 7th and 8th grades or a public high school (Santa Cruz High School; SCHS) in 9th grade before beginning home schooling in 10th grade—courses are also included on the transcript to provide a single transcript for all high-school work. The provider for each course is indicated on the transcript.
Most STEM courses are honors, AP, or college courses.
The Home School does not give grades, but ungraded courses have been validated by AP exams or SAT 2 exams when feasible—these exam results are indicated on the transcript for the corresponding courses. Where grades were given by course instructors, those grades are recorded on the transcript. Because most of the courses are not graded, GPA has not been computed.

The counselor letter is used for talking about the student as a person—to call attention to things that may be buried in the transcript and to talk about things that cannot be reasonably put on the transcript.  It is too personal to put on this blog, but I basically summarized his passion for computer science and theater, compared him to college computer engineering majors, talked about his recreational activities, and pointed out where he could be found on the web (StackOverflow,, …). The letter is about 2 pages long, and I had it reviewed by my son, my wife, and our consultant teacher.

The transcript has been the hardest to write—partly because it is the longest.  We ended up with 65 courses totaling 45.7 credits listed on the transcript: 10 computer science (7.3 credits), 22 theater (10.9 credits), 7 math (7 credits), 5 science (5 credits), 5 Spanish (5 credits), 4 social science (3 credits), 7 English (4 credits), and 5 PE (3.5 credits).  Many of the courses are less than a full year—classes varied from 0.2 to 1.0 credits.  I could have lumped together some of the theater classes, but then I would have ended up with classes with more than 1.0 credits, which I wanted to avoid. A typical AP-intensive curriculum involves 28–32 credits, so the 45.7 credits is a rather large load. Of course, 5 credits of it was taken in middle school, we are giving credit for things that might be extracurricular on other transcripts (like theater, robotics,  and being a TA for a Python course), and a lot of the theater happened as intensive summer camps.

The listing of the courses with provider, credits, grade (if any), and validating exam (if any) takes just over 2 pages.  The first page is just the computer science and theater classes, the next all the other academic classes, and the third page the PE classes.  Also on the third page is a listing of all standardized test scores and awards.  As a footer on these three pages, I list the 9 abbreviations used to indicate the different education providers.

The next 14 or so pages of the transcript give one- to two-paragraph descriptions of each course, including the instructor name, textbooks used, topics covered, and so forth.  The course descriptions are in the same order as the courses on the short course list.  Where possible, I copied course descriptions from education providers, adding textbooks (when we could remember what they were) and changing the tense of the descriptions to use past tense consistently.  For courses that we did at home, I had to create course descriptions—I’m still waiting for course descriptions from my son and my wife for some of the humanities courses—a list of readings would be most helpful.  It has probably taken me in excess of 40 hours to create this transcript and list of course descriptions, and I probably have a few hours of work left, incorporating the humanities course descriptions.


  1. Thanks very much for sharing this info. How do you recommend answering the multiple choice questions directed to school counselors, which ask you (parent/counselor) to compare your student to other students in his graduating class. Since he’s in a graduating class of 1, the questions don’t really apply. Also, what do you put for “class size” and “class rank?” “One” and “first?” “Not applicable” is not an option. Thanks.

    Comment by Anne — 2013 October 8 @ 14:03 | Reply

    • Class size=1, class rank=1.

      In the counselor’s letter I wrote “As a home-schooling parent, it is difficult for me to write objectively as a counselor about my son. The best I can do is to compare him to the engineering students I’ve met over 31 years of being an engineering professor. He is brighter and a better engineer than all but a few percent of them—and he is likely to get better with further education.”

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 October 8 @ 15:49 | Reply

      • Thanks again. That helps.

        Comment by Anne — 2013 October 8 @ 16:43 | Reply

  2. Kevin, thanks for this. I haven’t gotten to that page of the Common App, so don’t know yet — do you upload the counselor letter, or copy and paste it into a text box?

    Comment by Debbie — 2013 October 18 @ 14:27 | Reply

    • Upload a PDF. There can be some difficulty seeing whether they got the PDF correctly (different problems with Chrome and Firefox, both due to non-standard way that the Common App web developers did things).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 October 18 @ 15:23 | Reply

  3. When you enter as a counselor, the first question in the School Report about Class Rank is: How do you report class rank? The available choices are: ‘exact’, ‘decile’, ‘quintile’, ‘quartile’ and ‘none’. If you choose ‘none’, then you do not get the questions about class size and rank. I prefer this approach, since I do not see the point of doing statistics on a set of one element.

    Comment by Otto Linsuain — 2013 October 31 @ 09:17 | Reply

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