Guide to US Applications • Undergraduate

Ace Your US College Applications: Insider Tips on School Profiles, LORs, and Transcripts

POSTED ON 04/12/2024 BY The Red Pen

Ace Your US College Applications: Insider Tips on School Profiles, LORs, and Transcripts

US Colleges evaluate your application holistically. Apart from essays, grades, and family background, they wish to assess your opportunities at school. Therefore, specific material must be submitted by your high school. For those seeking a head start on college applications, begin organising these documents sooner rather than later. The three essential documents your school needs to provide for your college application are: 

1) What is a school profile

A school profile is a detailed report on your school’s academic programme and extracurricular offerings. It is a two-page document printed on both sides of non-glossy A4 sheets in dark ink and prepared and submitted by key faculty members, such as the principal, the school counsellor or the academic advisor. 

Why is a school profile important?

Admissions officers at many colleges consider the school profile crucial to the admissions process. This document provides them with contextual information about your school’s systems and your academic performance within its parameters so that they can fairly evaluate you. For most universities, this document is optional, but we recommend submitting it to eliminate unanswered questions during the evaluation process of your application.

What goes into a school profile?

Usually, the school profile contains information about the student body, facilities available, grade comparisons and college acceptances, among others. The main categories are:

  • Basic information: The header or footer must contain details like the school name, address, phone and fax numbers, and website address. The document should also include the names and contact details of the principal and all its counsellors. Your school may mention directions to the school, preferred days and times for college visits, and its College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) code or IB code. 
  • Background information: The school profile should contain a paragraph about the school, such as when it was founded, and briefly mention the vision, mission, and admission guidelines.
  • Demographic information:  Under this subhead, the school should describe its student body, the location of the school community and information about its socio-economic and ethnic mix. It can also touch upon parents’ education level, students’  financial profiles, the percentage of scholarship attendees and any other features of interest.
  • Curriculum: What type of curriculum does the school offer? What are the academic policies and required courses? What are the academic subjects/courses the school offers? What courses does your school not offer? Is the curriculum rigorous? How many courses can a student choose? Have there been any changes to the curriculum? These are some of the questions that your school must address. It may also include a short curriculum description, as some US colleges may not know all international learning methods. 
  • Grading: The school must include the grading scale and mention whether grades are weighted. It must also shed light on the competitiveness of the student body. Doing so lets admissions officers know the value of grades and understand your performance within the curriculum. If your school ranks students, this information should be a part of the document. The school must also provide details about the grade averages of the graduating class to reveal their performance and highlight recent changes to any grading and ranking policies.
  • Standardised test scores: Your school needs to report on the distribution and ranges of SAT and ACT. How many students took these tests? What is the average test score? If students do not take these exams, the school must provide information on exams such as JEE, CET, CLAT, NEET or other entrance exams.
  • Student engagement: The document must also provide an overview of all your school’s extracurricular and co-curricular activities. The school may also mention clubs and other organisations.
  • Unique elements: If your school has accreditation, institutional memberships, and special recognition and honours, it should incorporate the details. 
  • Acceptances and matriculations: The school profile can also include institutions that have admitted its students and universities that offered admission to students who did not enrol. 
  • Discipline policies of the school: The disciplinary issues reported give admissions officers a better understanding of the school you attended. 

What makes an impactful profile?

Admissions officers go through hundreds of thousands of applications each year. To ensure that that information isn’t lost, here are a few tips for creating a good school profile: 

  • Make the information as visual as possible by using graphs and charts.
  • The school profile is not a marketing document, so it must differ from the school admissions brochure. 
  • If your school doesn’t have a profile, ask your school counsellor to create one with as much information as they have. It need not be elaborate but should touch upon essential aspects in a tabular form. 
  • Even a simple profile with basic but thorough information is better than no profile.

What are Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation (LORs) are essential to the college application process. Typically, colleges ask for up to three LORs. These letters give the admissions officer insight into your capabilities, academic strengths, extra-curricular activities and personality. Therefore, it is important to select recommenders carefully.  Ideally, they should be people who have had enough opportunity to assess your abilities during your association. Most people assume that a reference letter from a higher authority, like a school principal, holds greater value. But that doesn’t necessarily hold if you haven’t had a personal or one-on-one equation with the principal. The best LORs come from people who have observed and mentored you for a substantial duration. 

Why are LORs important? 

LORs are third-party endorsements of you and often serve as corroborations to other parts of your application. US undergraduate admissions officers at selective colleges rely considerably on these letters to make admissions decisions. LORs help them understand whether they will fit into their college community and, therefore, have the power to make or break your chances of getting into your dream college. So, you must take these letters seriously and go beyond requesting people to write them. Most recommenders value your input, so schedule a meeting with them to discuss your background, future goals, the obstacles you overcame, and all you have achieved so far. Provide the recommender with a resume and documents to substantiate your achievements.  

What should LORs include?

  • Nature of your association: It should briefly explain how the recommender knows you. 
  • Duration of association: The longer recommenders know you, the better insights they can provide. 
  • Evidence or anecdotes: It’s always better to support positive traits with evidence or situations from which the recommender could deduce your abilities. 
  • Your potential: Recommenders should ideally mention your potential and how they believe you will contribute to a college. 
  • No scores or grades: LORs should only mention test scores and grades if they are imperative and have some context. 
  • Conclusion: Recommenders may conclude their letters with their hopes and dreams for you and where they see you in the future. It would be particularly beneficial if they offered to speak to the college for further information. 

What is a transcript?

A transcript is the academic record of your high school years. It starts with the first semester of the first high school year and is updated each term until you graduate. It maps your progress and overall performance between grades 9 and 12. There are two types of transcripts—official and unofficial. While official transcripts are sent directly from your high school to the colleges you’re applying to, the unofficial ones are handed to you or can be downloaded from your high school portal. Most US colleges require official transcripts sent directly to them, so ensure your school counsellor has all your information. You may also check with applied colleges to see if they’ve received your transcripts on time.

Why are high school transcripts important?  

As the most defining document of your college applications, transcripts are scrutinised with a fine comb by the decision-makers on the admissions committee. All platforms, from Common Application and Coalition Application to individual college and university applications, require an official transcript, and you must request your high school to send it. 

Your high school transcripts also come in handy when applying for scholarships, internships, and jobs. While most employers and scholarships require your high school to send an official transcript, few will ask for an unofficial transcript, which can be a photocopy or a document you’ve downloaded from your high school portal. 

What should transcripts include?

  • Classes you’ve taken between grades 9 and 12.
  • The grade you received in each class.
  • When you took each class.
  • Your GPA (weighted and unweighted).
  • Your class rank (if your school does class rankings).
  • Attendance records or serious disciplinary actions like suspensions.
  • Standardised test scores (optional).

US colleges employ a holistic evaluation process. In addition to your grades, essays and extracurricular activities, they require crucial documents from your high school. School profiles, letters of recommendation, and high school transcripts are vital in presenting a comprehensive picture of your academic journey and character to admissions officers. You may read our guides on selecting undergraduate courses in the US and creating the ultimate university list. For any assistance with your US application, please contact us. Our team looks forward to hearing from you.