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  • Sara Needleman

Getting into College with a Proficiency-Based Transcript

When it comes to college admissions, are students who graduate from high schools that use a proficiency-based transcript competitive? I spent the last few weeks asking a lot of questions to find out. The answer: Yes! Interested in the whole idea of proficiency-based transcripts, I posted this blog last month. I had spoken to the principals at Poland Regional High School and Casco Bay High School, both of which have used proficiency-based transcripts since they opened in 1998 and 2005 respectively. Each school surveyed admissions officers to see if their students would be at a disadvantage relative to their peers. The resounding response was "no." Both principals said that college admissions officers see all kinds of systems from high schools and, as long as the school's system is clear, students coming from it would not be at a disadvantage.

I decided to ask some admissions officers myself. I spoke with Jamie Marcus, director of admissions at the University of Maine, Farmington (UMF), a public university in my home state. I also spoke with Rob Springall, Dean of Admissions at Bucknell University, the country's largest private liberal arts university. They agreed that most colleges are prepared to deal with whatever they get in terms of the transcript. At Bucknell, Rob said that they encourage the readers of non-traditional transcripts to look for evidence of ways that a student would be successful at Bucknell and what he or she would add to the incoming class.

Both Jamie and Rob stated that they use the transcript to look at course work undertaken by the student and the student's academic performance and to compare the student to others in the applicant pool. The transcript, therefore, is vital, but as Rob pointed out, the school profile and secondary school report help admissions officers interpret information on the transcript. It's common practice for all high schools, including those using proficiency-based transcripts, to submit a school profile and secondary school report with the transcript. The profile helps to decode the transcripts and provide an understanding of expectations placed on the student. It also indicates where the high school places its priorities for all students and those who want to go beyond what's required of them. The secondary school report responds to questions regarding Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate status, and other useful information regarding which students attend four-year colleges and universities.

As I continued to talk with Jamie and Rob, another possibly more exciting thread emerged. Jamie shared that his experience with proficiency-based transcripts so far has led him to feel they might be an improvement over traditional transcripts. He said those he's seen so far are clear, concise, and well marked. He noted in particular the transcript being developed by the Great Schools Partnership (GSP): Easy to read and highly informative, more so than traditional transcripts.

Since a proficiency-based system draws a distinction between academic mastery and habits of work, the corresponding transcript can provide space for these distinctions, too. Rob said that the successful Bucknell applicant will do well with course work, build connections between subjects to integrate the curriculum, and contribute positively to the Bucknell community. He mentioned those very hard-to-assess traits such as persistence, time management, and the ability to work well with others. As we talked, we agreed that seeking these qualities in candidates is not unique to Bucknell, but that most, if not all, colleges and universities value them. It struck me that by its very nature a proficiency-based model and its corresponding transcript provide all of this information. And while no transcript, no matter how detailed or clear, can replace the other crucial pieces of a college application, it seems obvious that a proficiency-based transcript can provide a lot more rich and meaningful data than a traditional one.

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