The Transcript Trap: Your Real ‘Permanent Record’

Nice to meet you.

Every year at about this time I let my school’s guidance councilors come into my ninth grade classrooms to talk with the students about their path toward graduation. The councilors at my school do a great job outlining the graduation requirements and helping students select the classes they will need (these are all but completely chosen for them by the great state of New York, but that is another post). Towards the end of the presentation the councilors begin discussing college admissions with the students and they project an image of one of our school transcripts on the board.

“What is that,” a student exclaims.

“That is what your transcript looks like,” replies the councilor. “This is what colleges will look at when you are applying, do decide whether or not to accept you.”

The student squints his eyes and examines the document for another moment. “But that doesn’t say anything about me!”

I sat bolt upright in my chair. Have these students been listening to me after all? “Well, sure it does,” the councilor counters. “Look, there is your GPA, and up there in the corner is your class rank.”

“That is all colleges look at when you apply, that piece of paper?”

“Well, they also look at your application and your SAT scores. Sometimes they have you write an essay to apply.” After that the student stopped asking questions. When the bell rang and the period was over I thanked him for asking questions and he told me that he didn’t think it was right that a college could judge you on that piece of paper and I nodded in agreement. In a way I feel that this little happening is a microcosm of all the things that irk me about public education. The worth of my students is condensed into neat little rows of numbers, and some admissions councilor is going to run her eyes over those rows for thirty seconds. That transcript doesn’t say anything about that student’s integrity or willingness to help others, or his great sense of humor. And I think that stinks!

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2 thoughts on “The Transcript Trap: Your Real ‘Permanent Record’

  1. ktenkely says:

    Another thing I wonder about: how is it that students don’t even know what their transcript looks like? Most students never see that until they are applying to a college…how is that helpful? At least if students knew what it looked like, it might give them some inclination to make it change by putting in more effort. I used to hear all the time “this is going on your permanent record”. I started to think that the permanent record, along with the transcript, was an urban legend like the Easter Bunny or Santa Clause. I had never seen either (even though they were mine) and I had no idea what was on them or how to affect change on them. Something is wrong with that picture!

  2. Diego says:

    Have you looked at

    It’s a new website that’s kindof like facebook for getting into college. It’s not perfect, but it’s on the right track, and many colleges do actually use it. It’s whole point is that kids are “more than a test score” and colleges should learn more about their personalities and such. I had some of the colleges I applied to look at my profile. Not that it seemed to have helped me, but, it’s a good idea and a work in progress.

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