High School Documents
How do you keep homeschool records?
How do you write a transcript?
What is a Counselor Letter and School Report?
Tune in this week while we discuss these topics and more!
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Homeschooling high schoolers isn’t necessarily any harder than homeschooling younger grades, in fact, some think it is even easier because you become more of an administrator or facilitator than a teacher. Homeschool record keeping is part of the job of being a homeschool parent but keeping track of those records doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
As a homeschool parent of a high schooler, in addition to often being the teachers, you wear many additional hats:
Record keeping, registration and administration.
Help student identify and evaluate colleges
Find sources of information for student (e.g. scholarship search, test options)
Understand the process
Provide scheduling guidance
Help student with course selection, schedule modifications
Help student tailor academics and activities to goals
This is all part of that awesome benefit to homeschooling, where we get to handcraft a custom educational experience for our child. It does not need to feel overwhelming or hard with a little bit of organization and help.
We’d like to again thank Mary, Shari, and some of our other homeschool friends who have helped us along the way and specifically to craft some of the documents we are going to be talking about today.
The most important thing to consider when we talk about record keeping in homeschooling are your state requirements. We are in Texas, where we do not have any kind of record keeping requirements and so up until high school, we generally don’t do a whole lot with that. I keep a single envelope per child per year that may have some examples of work or artwork, ticket stubs, programs, mementos from field trips, and a single sheet with what classes they took, places we visited, shows we saw. It’s really more of a memory thing for us, rather than something representative of our schooling.
I tend to be a little bit more rigid on recordkeeping. I keep an actual portfolio -some states actually require this, but not here in Texas. My student’s portfolio is a three-ring binder detailing academic years with course information and materials, resumes, first day pictures and questionnaires, year and review, extracurricular, clubs, volunteer hours, awards, field trips, etc. I really keep all of our projects, samples of schoolwork completed elsewhere in a bin in the garage that I add to every year. Typically, at the end of the year, I will purge a majority of it and keep my favorites. Look up your state’s homeschooling laws and requirements
How do you keep homeschool records? (7:43)
Staying on top of homeschool organization is a good idea and will make your life as a homeschool parent so much easier and efficient. So, even if you have younger students, I encourage you to start making a habit of recordkeeping-even informally. Just a synopsis of what your child has done through the year on a one- or two-page document is sufficient in those younger years. Making recordkeeping a part of your homeschool routine and keeping up with it regularly will ease the burden when you need documentation for graduation, college admissions, and more.
If your student is college bound, there are 5 things that top colleges are looking for:
- Intellectual Curiosity
- Social Consciousness
You can showcase these qualities by taking classes with increasing rigor, participating in extra-curricular and community service activities, showing consistency & depth in extracurriculars, and developing leadership skills. We will have another high school series episode where we focus on extracurriculars and community service in this series.
Meanwhile, there are 4-5 documents you will want to keep that you will need for college admissions that will help you illustrate these qualities. A transcript, a resume, a school profile, and counselor letter.
In addition, some colleges are also going to want to see course descriptions. It’s up to you if you want to prepare these. Frankly, they are a lot of work and not every school is going to want to see them. If you have mostly homeschooled at home, or used non-traditional sources, you may be asked for more information to back up your transcript.
A resume is a one-page document that provides an overview of your experience, skills, and other relevant information. A strong high school résumé gives potential employers and colleges a quick, but detailed and accurate snapshot of who you are and why they should be interested in getting to know you better. The primary goal of a resume is to sell your abilities to a hiring manager, making a resume is your first step toward finding a job. Colleges often want to see a resume, as well, and these can be uploaded in the Common App or whatever application program you use. They are a great place to showcase your child’s accomplishments or special skills that aren’t necessarily educational or class type things.
Writing a resume is fairly easy, there are many templates out there to help as well as blogs and articles to guide you. The basic items you want to include on your resume are:
- Name and contact info, phone number, email
1-3 sentences emphasizing the experiences and accomplishments that best define you. If you are looking for a job, you might want something job specific in there, but keep that pretty broad for college applications. And often, when looking for a job, specific job details will be in your cover letter anyway.
For high school students, you probably aren’t going to have a long job history or even any at all. But you can emphasize the skills and knowledge you’ve developed in your studies, internships, community service, or part-time work. So it’s fine to include volunteering, babysitting, dog walking, tutoring, odd jobs, summer jobs, temporary jobs, and internships if you don’t have much in the way of real work history yet.
This is where you can put the name of your homeschool if you have one, any dual credit information, etc. You can also add your expected graduation date here. Not all states require you to name your homeschool. We have a name we picked out when we did have to have one, and it looks good on paper- probably most people guess it’s a swanky private school.
For the jobs or skills you listed in the experience section, you will want to clarify the responsibilities you had, the tasks that you successfully completed, and the outcomes with bullet points. Be specific but brief. We suggest using lots of action words such as: assisted, built, created, designed, drafted, installed, maintained, presented, programmed, repaired, served, and so on.
Here is where you can include any other pertinent information and accomplishments from home, school, or community, test scores, relevant coursework, non-credit courses taken, academic honors, special projects, leadership roles, extracurricular activities, hobbies, clubs, athletics, scouting, community service awards, scholarships, certificates. This is where things like specific computer programming expertise can go- fluent in Word, Excel, typing, etc. Are you CPR or First Aid certified? Maybe your student has Lifeguard or Babysitting certifications? Proficiency in a musical instrument.
We later also use this resume for work or as a base for creating a future job resume, so it is a great thing to start early and then revise as you go.
Course descriptions are details about individual courses and may be required or accepted by colleges. You may want to check the admissions website or with the admissions counselor to see if these are necessary.
There are 5 parts of a quality course description. You are going to want to format it in a way that’s clear and easy to read.
1. Header: Your header should include the course name, instructor and/or course provider, semester/year class was taken, # of credits, grade received, and your texts and resources.
2. Description: Next you will want a good course description that will describe the class. What is the purpose, the content, the experience.
3. Methods of Evaluation: Here, you will explain how the student was graded. Discussion, quizzes, tests, assignments, essays are some commonly used methods of evaluation. Many homeschoolers use a mastery approach, and this is where you can list that, as well.
4. Materials Used: List the main resources used in the class. This can be textbooks, plays, essays, online resources, newspapers, journals, lab materials. Some people include book lists for the year.
5. Test Scores: If your homeschooler took Subject Tests or AP exams following this class, you can add them here, too.
If you are struggling writing these descriptions, keep in mind that you do not need to recreate the wheel. You copy and paste directly from the course catalog or website for community college or online courses. Textbooks often have a summary listed on the publisher’s website. If you used a tutor or other private class, you can ask the instructor if they have a course description or if they can write one for you. Also, if you have designed your own course, you may want to look for similar courses online and just use description as a guide while writing your own, or you may have already had it written out when you crafted the course.
Lastly, if you have a student that is an artist or designer or maybe an actor or dancer, you will have different requirements. We do have some friends who have walked this path and plan to have some guests on our show at some point that can talk about their students’ experiences in applying to specialty programs and we can hear about the audition or other admission processes they have been through. In some cases, students may need to build an artist’s portfolio in addition to or instead of traditional application materials.
How do you write a transcript? (19:06)
What is a transcript?
Your transcript is a document that ensures that base admissions requirements are met, determines the student’s readiness to work at a college level, and showcases course load and rigor. Every school that your child attended in high school will provide a transcript for college admission. For us, that meant we sent one both from the community college and from our homeschool. Some students may have another from a public or private school that needs to be sent in.
When Will I Need a Transcript?
- College admissions
- Scholarships and contests
- Job applications/security clearances
- Transferring to a public or private school
- Military enrollment
- Insurance companies (good student driver discount)
Your transcript should be a single page. It should obviously be accurate. You want it to be easy to read and easy to skim. And you want it to be professional and attractive. I prettied mine up by printing on parchment and I ordered gold stickers with my school’s crest on it. You don’t have to go all extra like that, but you can!
We see this question a lot- a college wants an official high school transcript and people freak out. You know what makes it official? Simply typing the words “Official High School transcript” across the top. Later, when you send the last one after graduation, you will add the word Final. The top line of the document should make it clear.
So your transcript should have these basics:
At the top- Student Information
• Contact Information- your student’s, not yours. We include address, email, and a phone number.
• Birth Date
• Other (sometimes optional) a SSN or xxx-xxx-last 4 digits. They will be using this number a lot once admitted- now is the time to learn it!
There may be multiple students applying with the same name as your student, so you definitely want to have them identified as well as possible.
• Date of Graduation (actual or anticipated) and a start date (optional). If you did something creative, like count 8th grade coursework, or have a super senior year, you may want to leave the start date off. Again, it is up to you.
• Name of School- not all states require this so you may not have one or maybe you are making one up now. Some people get creative with this, other people use their last name or street name in the title.
• Contact Information- this is where your parent info goes- I just put my name and email.
- You are going to list both full and partial credit courses.
- You will want to include courses taken elsewhere (dual credit, other schools)
- Courses taken before 9th grade.
- Courses that are honors or AP
- You can designate these as separate from your homeschool courses done at home with an asterisk or other indication.
- You will want a key and legend on your transcript that clarifies that information.
- Also, you can put classes on your transcript that your student is currently taking or will take next semester (this is important for seniors applying in the fall for the following school year). We just put IP (for in progress) on the transcript without a grade.
Credits and GPA
You want a spot on your transcript to show the number of total credits completed and your GPA. When it comes to Grade Point Average (GPA) there are several options for this. You just want to choose something that is simple and easy to understand and that is consistent. You want to list a cumulative GPA calculated for all completed courses.
And you can choose Weighted, unweighted or both. Grade-weighting is the process of increasing grades from more challenging courses when calculating the student’s GPA. Grade-weighting rewards students who take challenging courses. For example, common weighting is honors = +.5, college level (AP or DE) = +1 point. Again, just make sure weighting clearly marked.
1. Multiply each grade by the number of credits awarded to get the grade points.
2. Add all the grade points.
3. Divide the total grade points by the total number of credits.
In your key, where you may put clarifying information and a legend, you can indicate where courses were taken, your grading scale and your weighting formula.
You may also want to include test scores. PSAT, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP, some people do CLT.
Lastly, you want a spot for your signature and report date.
If your students won any awards or notable activities, you may want to include these on the transcript. Some people are adamant about these being showcased on the resume or other part of the application, I have mine on the back of our transcript. This may include prestigious awards, volunteer work, leadership or specialized training or Internships.
Which leads us into what format of transcript should you use?
This is very personal, and you have a lot of options here. There are so many transcript templates out there. Look around at several. Some people like to list by year/term. This is the most familiar to admissions teams. It is easily organized and showcases increasing rigor from year to year.
Some people like to list by subject. This can be an easy way to de-emphasize unusual timings (gaps, fewer/extra years) high school classes taken before grade. We use it because my kids took many shortened semester classes and it looks weird to have several in one year. Super senior years. This can also showcase passion/focus.
What is a Counselor Letter and School Report? (31:04)
A school report or school profile is a document that provides information about a school within the context of its students and its community. It gives an overview of the academics and opportunities offered. College admissions officers are typically familiar with the schools in their assigned region. They usually already know the quality of academics and the quality of the students who graduate from that school. As a homeschooler, you need to provide that context by providing evidence that your homeschool is also a quality one – rooted in strong academics and unique learning opportunities.
The school report/profile is about your homeschool, not your homeschooler. Up until this, all of the varying documents have highlighted your student. Obviously, there will be some overlap, but this is the place where you can really highlight your academics and your academic choices and homeschool philosophy. The school report/profile is not a part of the transcript, but can add or provide context. Not all schools will request or allow a school report, but some will, and this will come in handy especially if you are using a general admissions website, like the Common App.
Here are some items you want to cover in your Homeschool School Profile/report, aside from your school name and contact information.
- The history of your school. You’ll want a brief overview of when your homeschool was created and maybe why, and maybe how it has benefitted your students. Again, talk in general, not specifics. Even if your homeschool will only ever have one student, talk as if there could be many.
- Describe the philosophy of your homeschool. Is it interest-driven, rigorous, student-led, self-designed, classical or other popular methodology, project-based? I used this section to explain a little bit about Charlotte Mason philosophy and mastery approach. We don’t do a lot of testing, so I explained why here.
- Describe your curriculum and choices. Why did you choose dual credit over AP courses? Did you opt to focus on a particular path or interest? I also use this section to talk about educational partnerships we may have had- local community college, brick and mortar homeschool school, university model program, etc. You may want to include a brief description and bio of each provider.
- Describe how grading, weighting, and assessments are done in your homeschool. How do you assign credits? Determine weight?
- Graduation Requirements. Here you may list your state’s graduation requirements or talk about your specific grad requirements if you are in a state that leaves that to you.
What is the homeschool counselor letter?
The counselor letter is basically a letter of recommendation submitted to colleges on behalf of an applicant and this would typically come from a school’s guidance counselor. Since you are technically the guidance counselor, you’re responsible for writing the recommendation. In a traditional school environment, this letter would usually be evaluating a student compared with other students in that specific school community. Since homeschoolers obviously cannot be compared in this way, we really cannot do this. We still want to demonstrate that they took rigorous classes, had impacts on the community, were leaders socially and in their extracurriculars.
You will have to find a balance here between proud mom and teacher while still presenting in a professional manner. You do not want to sound like a gushy mom, but you do want to share the great qualities and achievements that you know your homeschooler has. I personally thought this was the hardest thing we had to do for the process. Everything else has a template out there or you can ask friends for examples. But this is such a personal and specific document, you really cannot do that with this.
So in writing your letter, you want to think about your application process as a whole and think about what your application does NOT say. All in all, your transcript, resume, application (essay questions) and counselor letter should say everything you want them to know about your student. Think about- Is there anything missing academically? If you feel that the transcript doesn’t show the academic rigor of higher level classes, Ap or Dual Credit grades and test scores, provide other evidence of intellectual curiosity and examples of independent projects. If you have other credentials or experience in teaching, explain this in detail. Discuss your child’s development.
You may want to detail more about your homeschool and philosophy again and perhaps explain how this shaped your student or was shaped by your student. Talk about what motivates and excites your student, how they show initiative, how they have taken advantage of homeschooling and the schedule and flexibility it has provided them. You’ll also want to talk about extracurriculars and socializing. While the number of homeschoolers continues to grow and universities are becoming increasingly accommodating,there are still stigmas or negative stereotypes that go along with homeschooling.Take this opportunity to discuss their social strengths within the context of groups, leadership roles, and other activities in the community.
Colleges really want to know WHO their applicants are. What kind of person are they and what will they be at college and in the future. Universities are specifically looking for students that are going to add to an already rich school culture. Why would your student be a great fit?
You can reveal your teen’s positive qualities through anecdotes and examples- don’t go overboard! You can also quote someone else or even the student to support their character and values. Be sure to back those quotes up with specific examples.The most important thing to remember is that this letter is about the student.This should not be a list of accomplishments or a resume- you already supplied that context elsewhere. And while there may be slight overlap with your school report/profile, this is really just the story of your student.
Things that should be in The Homeschool Counselor Letter:
- Greeting to the selection committee with words that you are writing this letter on behalf of “student name.”
- Examples, stories, or anecdotes about your students’ positive traits or values. Information about your homeschool journey or philosophies, quotes from your homeschooler or other leaders familiar with your student (this could be someone else who has written a recommendation for them)
- Make sure to include Common App or Application ID#, Counselor Signature, and Counselor Title.
This letter can be difficult to write. It is insanely personal, and it can be a powerful and moving experience writing it. Prepare to feel all the emotions as you think back on their childhood and homeschool experience. Definitely allow yourself to congratulate yourself on navigating an unconventional education path and your part in creating this special being. This really is an incredible honor to get to present and truly recommend your student in this manner. Celebrate your child and what you have both accomplished together!