Each year there seems to be more schools relying on self-reported test scores and transcripts on their applications.  While they may, in the long run, streamline the application process I’ve seen them cause a good amount of stress during this already stressful process.  Should an optional test score self-report be filled in?  How do I know whether to mark my class as a semester or quarter?  Why are schools doing this to me?!

 Let’s answer the last question first.  In theory, allowing students to self-report saves colleges and high schools times and students money and hassle.  Instead of having to request score reports from testing services and transcripts from guidance counselors the student can informally report this information on their application.  The student’s responses are then used to render an admissions decision and only once a student enrolls does the college request an official final transcript and score report.  This makes it impossible for a student to profit from submitting false information and also allows them to only have to order one set of scores to their chosen school. 

Likewise, the college gets off the hook for processing all those test scores and transcripts.  Back in my professional admissions days I remember the office hiring a team of “processors” just for application season to make sense of transcripts sent from high schools and to ensure that all the class names and grades imported properly.  When a student fills this data in on a school’s form the college can be sure the data will import exactly as they want it to.  Some schools will also have you submit a picture of your unofficial transcript for them to reference just in case they have a question.

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The only annoying part of this practice at present is that many schools are only in the beta testing phase and therefore they’ll ask you to submit both the unofficial AND official reports.  Sorry guys, but this means you’re the college’s guinea pigs as they assess the functionality of their reporting forms.  Nothing to do but power through it as best you can!

That said, I’ve watched many a family freeze with fear when confronted with this challenge.  The  SAT or ACT score reports are easier; just a few rules on those.  First of all, it’s almost always in your favor to submit all your test scores, even if you have a lower score.  Simply having tested multiple times shows colleges that you tried your best!  Scores are usually reported by test date and you can just login to College Board or ACT to view your scores and copy them accordingly.  Generally I advise not to bother with submitting elective unofficial test scores, which is only extra leg work for you and won’t slow down or complicate your review by leaving blank.  See?  Nothing to stress about!

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about self-reporting transcripts.  The year one of the schools I worked for implemented them there was a significant increase in overall calls to the office consisting of worried families looking for guidance.  As someone now working with students myself I must admit I still make the occasional call to a college asking what the heck they’re looking for.  Many of these forms are confusing and ask you to break down your coursework in ways that don’t jive with the way the high school is recording them.

I wish I could give a step-by-step for you to follow but this is one of those times that an independent counselor (like me!) or your guidance counselor should be present to ensure the document is submitted properly.  No one needs the headache of a chosen college calling a month before orientation questioning your honesty on the self-report.

Two quick tips I can offer: first of all, when it comes to categorizing your classes try to lump them into one of seven categories: English, math, science, social studies, foreign language, physical education, and electives.  Generally speaking you probably have close to one of each every year and you want the self-reported categories to reflect this.

Secondly, if you’re questioning how to break down your school year to report grades think about how many times a year you get a report card.  Four times is quarterly, twice a year means your school uses semesters, etc.  I’m really just scratching the surface here because of how complex it can get so again; don’t hesitate to get the help you need!

Think of it this way, Seniors: even though this might be a tricky part of your college applications chances are colleges will have made drastic improvements by the time your younger siblings are filling out theirs.  And that’s what you’re all about at the end of the day, making your little brother and sisters’ lives better, am I right?