The college application process can be a stressful time for high school students, but amidst the entrance essay writing and filling in of applications, there are two things that get sent to colleges which are mere records and cannot be re-read, edited, and tweaked to suit each different college: the high school transcript, and the SAT scores.
Transcripts and SAT scores are both inalterable records, and even though a student can work to perform well to improve the final grades on their transcript, or re-take the SAT to send in higher scores, there isn’t much he/she can do to control how the college admissions board will perceive the grades and scores. These items are the college’s “black-and-white” image of a student, with none of the fluff, filler, and excuses that essays and applications allow. So, the question is, how much power do each of these records hold in the admissions process?
The SAT is by far the more stressed-over piece of the application package. This is because the SAT is something that the student has usually either taken within the past year or will take very soon, and it is also more controllable in that the student can re-take the SAT and try to gain higher scores. The SAT is also supposed to be used as a standard measure of basic knowledge and skills necessary for a student planning on attending college, so many students find themselves fretting over their score more than their transcript, which is something they cannot change and is a record of how they’ve performed within the standards of their local school.
Interestingly enough, as true as it is that the SAT provides a single standard to rate students from many different locations, the transcript is often more weighty in the college application package because it is a record of how a student has performed over a four-year period. The SAT is a record of how a student performed on one day, possibly in an unfamiliar or stressful testing location, and in subjects which the student may or may not have reviewed recently. Transcripts provide information about how a student handles the learning process, how he/she handles keeping up with courses, testing, and getting assignments in on time, which are all important skills in college as well. Colleges want students who are going to stick around for four years or more, so they need to accept students who can perform well over a period of years, not just hours. This is why it is so important to always do well in school, because by the time a student reaches senior year and wants to apply to college, it’s too late to make that transcript look good.
The transcript also shows the college admissions board what kind of classes a student has taken. AP and honors courses are of course impressive, especially if good grades were earned, but even courses which are simply more advanced or challenging leave an impression. Many high schools include extracurricular activities, memberships to academic societies, and special recognitions on their transcripts as well. When all is said and done, the transcript simply gives a better picture of what kind of performance the college can expect from the applicant, and thus is a more important piece of the application. The SAT is still important, as it is a universal measure which will identify a student who perhaps has done well in their small local school but doesn’t have enough basic skills for a big university, for example, but the transcript’s importance should not be overlooked. Do well in school, and keep it up: the skills will be beneficial in college as well!