When your student graduates from college and begins that all-important job search, they need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. There’s a lot of emphasis on writing a compelling cover letter and crafting an impressive resume. These tools are essential. (If you haven’t talked to your student about these, make sure that conversation happens.)
But beyond cover letter and resume, your student will need to be able to tell their unique story. What are their passions? What are their areas of growth? What challenges have they overcome?
One way to begin to craft that story is to begin with their college transcript.
What is a college transcript?
Your student’s transcript is the record of their academic history while in college. In one sense, it is an academic resume and record of what they have accomplished.
Academic transcripts vary in format by school, but all generally contain the same essential information:
- The dates that your student was enrolled and took classes.
- The courses that your student has taken while in college.
- The grades for their courses, including whether your student withdrew from a course (W), had an Incomplete (I), or took the course Pass/Fail (P or F).
- Your student’s Grade Point Average (GPA).
- Whether or not your student graduated.
- Other pertinent information such as academic warning or probation, honor code violations, academic or judicial dismissal, or special awards or honors (such as cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude.)
Does the transcript really matter?
The answer to that question is – it depends. Some employers may ask to see a transcript (often to verify that the student actually did graduate) and others may not be interested. A transcript is often more important for early career, entry level jobs since students have less work experience to demonstrate their abilities.
So a transcript may, or may not, matter a lot. However, it is important for students to remember that a transcript is simply a document – providing a list of courses, grades, and other facts. What matters more is the story that your student can tell based on their transcript. How can your student “humanize” the information and connect the dots to create a unique and personal story?
What is the story?
Before thinking about the story that your student can tell, one caution is necessary. It is crucial that your student not make excuses for anything on their transcript. There is a distinct difference between explaining circumstances (such as for a failing grade) and denying, making excuses or assigning blame. Your student needs to take ownership and responsibility while explaining the situation. To do otherwise will almost certainly sabotage your student’s application or interview.
Suggest that your student spend some time reviewing their transcript class-by-class and semester-by-semester to see what stands out. Are there trends or patterns? Can they connect the dots between elements?
Here are a few things for your student to look for and consider:
- Grade trends or patterns –
- Did grades tend to go from strong to weak? Were there personal issues that interfered with success? Was your student distracted by things other than school? Were advanced classes much more difficult?
- Did grades tend to go from weak to strong? This is easier to explain and a positive feature to point out. Did your student have issues making the transition to college academics at the beginning? Did your student’s grades improve as they moved further into their major? Did they simply mature and learn to manage their lives better?
- How does their GPA in their major compare with their overall GPA? Are they an outstanding student in their field but weaker in their general education courses?
- If your student failed any classes, what was the reason? How did they handle the situation? Did they retake the course and do well? What did they learn from the experience?
- Beyond grades –
- What were your student’s favorite classes? Why? Did it have to do with the subject matter? The instructor? The style of class?
- Did your student take a particularly challenging curriculum? Not all classes are created equal. A 3.0 GPA in a difficult curriculum is more impressive than a 4.0 in a series of easy classes and demonstrates your student’s willingness to take on a challenge.
- Are there stories or lessons your student learned from particular courses or semesters that they will be able to apply on the job? Did they learn things outside of their major or field that will set them apart or mean that they can bring a unique perspective to their career?
- Did your student complete one or more minors or a double major?
- Did your student complete one or more internships, study abroad, or take on independent study? What did they learn from these experiences?
- What connections is your student able to make between the classes they’ve taken? Can they see the bigger picture and broader concepts?
Whether an employer ever asks to see your student’s transcript or not, time spent thinking about the picture that it paints will be well worth it. It can give your student new ways to talk about their college experiences and growth.
Your student’s story will change as they spend more time out of college and add new chapters, but some lessons from that original transcript may continue to be relevant.
Thinking about the college transcript as the script to your student’s college story will help them be more self-aware and stand out from the crowd.