Admissions Beat S4E7 Transcript

Season 4: Episode 7 Transcript
Data Dive, Part 1: The High School Transcript

Lee Coffin:
From Hanover, New Hampshire, I'm Lee Coffin, Dartmouth Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, and this is the Admissions Beat. 


Data and voice. For most of my career, I have pointed to those two words as organizing principles around a college application.

There's the data that often dominates conversations about college admissions when people go to GPA and testing as the singular definition of merit. And then there's voice, which is the art of storytelling through the various elements of the application: how those two things come together to create a holistic story of the person who has applied.

And we've spent the last couple of episodes talking about storytelling, a narrative, how to put fingers on keyboards and come up with essays short and long that bring personality into the file.

So, I thought, let's pivot and tackle the data and give seniors in high school their parents and counselors a way of understanding what are the numbers and letters that dance around college admission and what do they mean, and how do we use them.

And what should an applicant be doing to maximize an application through that part of the file. So, when we come back, two longtime admission leaders will join me for a conversation I'm calling Data Dump. We'll be right back. 


Today's conversation about data features a returning friend of the pod, Emily Roper-Doten.

When we last met her, Emily was the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts. She has since relocated herself. And Emily joins us today as the new Vice President for Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Assistance at Clark University in Worcester. Hi, Emily. It's always great to have you on the pod.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Hi Lee. I'm thrilled to be here. This should be a fun conversation.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah, thanks for coming back. And making his debut on Admissions Beat is my friend and colleague, Jeremiah Quinlan, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid at Yale. Hi, Jeremiah.

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Hi, Lee. Thanks for having me. Very excited to be part of this conversation and to talk next to you and Emily about these important issues.

Lee Coffin:
You're going to talk with me and Emily.

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Talk with you, yeah.

Lee Coffin:
So, this topic is the naughty one that I think so many parents and kids overemphasize. They get stuck on things like their grades and their class rank. So, I want to have a conversation with the two of you about the numbers and the letters that dominate college admission or at least dominate it in the minds of kids in high school.

And I think by the end of this podcast, I think people are going to say, "Oh, those are important, but they're not singular in terms of their focus." And Jeremiah, you just nodded at this. Why did that ring true to you?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
As you said at the start of the podcast, it's only part of the picture. And at Yale, we use data to essentially answer the preliminary question of "Is a student prepared to do the academic work at our institution?" And we look at the grades and we look at the courses that the students have taken.

And if it's available in the file, we look at the testing. And we start with those elements because we're looking, again, to answer a singular question for most students in our applicant pool. The answer to that question is yes, the student does have the preparation academically to do well at Yale.

And then, we turn to the rest of the application file, the essays, the letters of recommendation, the extracurricular activities to answer some of those voice pieces that you talked about earlier. And that really is what separates out a student.

The data is important. It's the preliminary question, it's the first step to being a competitive applicant to Yale, but it's only part of the journey to getting in front of the admissions committee.

Lee Coffin:
That's beautifully said. I was nodding and smiling all the way through that answer because it's foundational. It is the preliminary step for every college. Emily at Clark, which has a very different admission profile than Yale and Dartmouth, wwhat would you add to Jeremiah's description of why we start with the data?

Emily Roper-Doten:
I actually think it doesn't really matter if you admit 4% or 40%, you're still answering a question for your faculty of, are the students you're inviting into your community going to be capable of succeeding in your classrooms?

And so, we do similarly look for what is the picture of the student who's going to walk onto our campus, sit in our classrooms, work in our workshops, be a part of whether it's game design or studio art or psychology, making sure that we're thinking about students who are bringing the academic skills to be successful.

So, the primary story of that for us is the transcript. What did you do in the classroom? What courses did you take? Yes, how did you perform in those classes? But what's the story? We always talk about story a lot in the world of admission. There's a story in the transcript.

That story could be what classes did you choose to take. Whether it's because you wanted to challenge yourself because that subject was interesting to you. Maybe that story is one of a student who's on the rise, right? Are we going to catch you when you're peaking academically?

Maybe that first year, that ninth grade, it's an adjustment just like the first year of college. There's a transitional moment there. So, what's the story that the transcript tells us so that we can turn around and say to our faculty, this group of students is ready to jump in with us?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
I would just add something that Emily just said that has really resonated with me was the idea that the transcript does tell a story and we're not looking at a singular GPA number to help us answer the questions that we have about a student's academic preparation and academic journey. At Yale, we don't really even pay too much of attention to the actual 4.0 number or 4.5 number or whatever waiting GPA scale you have at your high school.

We look at the entire transcript in its entirety on the screen to understand the classes that a student has taken, to understand the academic journey that a student has gone on, to understand the choices that they may have made. And that is incredibly valuable information for us that is not boiled down to a singular number at all.

Lee Coffin:
So, I think we're all saying the same thing about the transcript as the heart of an application. If someone does not have the academic preparation to be successful on the campus we each represent, end of story.

But as Jeremiah pointed out, the majority of people who apply, everywhere I've worked are broadly qualified. Doesn't mean they're all going to graduate Phi Beta Kappa with honors, but they can successfully sit in a classroom and not have the faculty knock on my door and say, "Who the hell did you admit?"

These people can't do the work as I'm presenting it. And so, that foundational question starts every admission process. But if I'm a parent listening to that, it feels abstract. How do we know that from the transcript that somebody can do the work? I mean, Emily, what's the evidence there that gives us that proof point?

Emily Roper-Doten:
Part of the evidence I think is seeing that a student has at least dabbled, if not, more than dabbled in some rigorous work that might be a proxy for college level work. So, maybe that's an honors level, maybe that's a dual enrollment course. Maybe that's taking a course at a community college over the summer.

Maybe it's AP or IB. Giving us a chance to see someone who's had a set of academic expectations in a course that allows us to think they're going to be able to hold their own in our classrooms. And it's reflective of the type of work we do at our individual institution.

So, we are a broadly liberal arts-based institution with an intensive research agenda. So, we're looking for students that in that story we're getting from the transcript are going to be able to write those papers. They're going to be able to partner with faculty on research that we see that dynamic. And so, there is a piece of saying what was available to the student in their high school in terms of challenging coursework and what did they take? So, we're not going to sit there and say, "Ah, your high school had 28 AP classes. You should have taken 28 AP classes."

That's bananas, right? And it would make you a not interesting person. We keep coming back to the person who's going to come onto campus, but maybe the student chose the four classes that really pull their interest. If they're interested in the STEM career later on, we're seeing them dabble in math, maybe it's AP Calculus or maybe it's AP Physics or chemistry, those sorts of things.

So, seeing how their choices in terms of the curriculum help us also see what they're thinking about. Not that everyone has to be declared when they come in, but what they're thinking about in terms of academics.

So, that's certainly one piece of it where I think we will that look top to bottom at how are they performing, what do those grades look like because we want to see that they're able to meet the challenge of those challenging courses as well.

Lee Coffin:
So, Jeremiah, let's get really tactical. So, you're sitting meeting an application. How do you read and document the transcript? Emily has applied and you open her transcript and you need to assess it. What do you do?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
We will scan it from literally top to bottom. Obviously, transcripts are organized differently depending on what type of high school you go to. But we're trying to get an understanding of how well a student is prepared, what classes they've taken and how well they've done in those courses.

We're looking for students who have challenged themselves in high school through rigorous courses, whether that's international baccalaureate, advanced placement, whatever rigor is available to students in their particular school or community context.

And we are looking closely at those grades. We are looking more closely at the grades in the junior and senior year. We're not looking for perfection. We don't have a rubric. We're not sitting there counting the number of foreign language courses a student has taken, a number of science courses a student has taken.

We obviously want to see a breadth of course completion and courses that students have taken. But again, as Emily was just saying, so, well, if you are interested in foreign language and you want to take introductory French for your senior year rather than an AP science, that's a really interesting choice that might tell us something about what your interests are.

If you want to take AP Statistics and AP Calculus in your senior year and not take AP Government or Econ also another interesting choice that helps us understand what your academic interests are.

And again, we are not calculating numbers, we're not crunching them as we review. We're just looking holistically at the challenges that a student has given themselves in high school and how they've met those challenges.

Lee Coffin:
And how do we know that?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Through the coursework. I mean, through what type of advanced coursework that they're taking.

Lee Coffin:
How do we know, like at Dartmouth, we had over 7,000 high schools in last year's applicant pool. How does an admission officer, as a reader know how to assess what's on the transcript versus what's offered?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Thank you for clarifying. So, we actually organize the world into different geographic portfolio. So, I have 25 full-time admissions officers and then 40 total admissions readers, so 15 folks who work for us part of the year. And these all are people with deep levels of admissions experience or they've just been through our reader training.

And it's their job to understand the high schools in their admissions territory and in their context. So, there is someone responsible for reviewing the applications from the state of Michigan.

And that individual understands the different context of a student's applying from the upper peninsula or the suburbs of Detroit or East Lansing, and they're trying to understand what offerings there are available at a school, what the typical coursework looks like at a school.

And then, even if they have questions because their expertise is not all encompassing, the school provides us a pretty good amount of detail in the school profile for what courses are offered, what the average GPA is at the school, the average number of APs is at the school.

Sometimes school will offer us the average standardized test score for the school so that we can put that in context. And in the committee room itself, if we have questions about the coursework that a student has taken, we can pull up this document and as a group of individuals try to understand what the offerings the school has and whether or not a student has taken advantage of.

Lee Coffin:
That profile, for listeners, is a hidden resource, hidden because it's not usually something that you have but the school shares it with us as a companion to a transcript.

Jeremiah Quinlan:
And in some cases, it's a tremendous resource. It can be incredibly helpful.

Lee Coffin:
So, Emily and Jeremiah, you're both pointing towards curriculum first. I mean, you've both described a student's path from ninth grade to 12. And looking at what's available, what did you take? We'll get to how did you do. But I had an anonymous letter last week from a parent who was not responding to the podcast specifically, but was observing something.

I don't even know if it's a mom or dad, but parent observed this. "I want to express my concerns over your admission department's overemphasis on high school AP courses.

In all the information sessions my family has attended in the past several months, admission directors have made the point of explaining how closely their college looks at what AP courses are offered at the applicant's high school and how many of these courses the applicant has taken all in order to judge how 'serious the applicant is about learning.'"

This I believe is a mistake. What do you say to this parent? We're talking about rigor. Why are we looking at things like advanced coursework and honors or advanced college prep or whatever a school might call? What's the value in the admission review of rigor?

Emily Roper-Doten:
I think one of the things that they're touching on is that there are lots of different students in the world and we want to remind them that there are lots of different colleges as well. And so, not every college is necessarily going to be counting Eps in the same way.

Certainly, I just mentioned that in our read of an application, we are looking for students to take those courses. And part of that is because we are looking for evidence that the student has had exposure to some deep learning and thinking and writing and skill building that they'll utilize.

We are not ever actually trying to admit masterpieces, people who are done. We are not trying to admit students who have done everything already. We're looking for growth, we're looking for evidence of growth and those kinds of things.

And so, being able to think about what a student has had exposure to in terms of courses allows us to potentially draw conclusions around what skills they're gaining. Things like the AP curriculum or the IB curriculum give us an opportunity. Folks in our world know what those curricula offer.

We know what those different courses are teaching students, the skills that they're built around. And so, we can think of how they translate to what we do. Many of us are also incredibly close partners with organizations of institutional research on our campuses.

So, we may also be taking the data from our admission process and mapping it to how students do on our particular campus to be able to say, "Oh, students with this type of background are the students who are most successful in our classrooms."

And so, it's not totally random, it's not totally just based on feel, this transcript feels good, but really how does the information that we gather in the admission process help us say the likelihood of this student being successful, growing, contributing, and all those things is high based on these things that we're learning.

Lee Coffin:
And Jeremiah, you're in a place which you described as having the majority of applicants are qualified and your acceptance rate is low. How does rigor inform assessment and then decision-making in that very competitive landscapes? I think a lot of our listeners have aspirations of an admission outcome in the, what I would call the toughest band of selectivity. Where does rigor sync up with that?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
I don't want people to get too hyper-focused on rigor. Again, we're not counting things up when we're reviewing. We are just looking at what the junior year and senior year program tells us about a student's academic preparation. And we don't necessarily mind, again, it's a base question about if a student's academically prepared.

And if there's a compelling candidate in a similar high school with fewer APs, that is still... we're not going to be comparing students across that particular dimension in making decisions that hinge on these very fine differences between AP courses or rigor.

To go back to your original question and to add onto what Emily said, I will say that we hear very loudly and clearly from our faculty that the performance in some of these AP and IB classes is incredibly predictive of how students do at Yale, particularly in introductory math courses.

We've heard from faculty around how well students are doing if they've done some of the IB extended essay work and they have really good independent research skills or writing ability to put together long papers, things that they're going to have to do in college.

Now, again, if students haven't had these opportunities because these choices are not available to them at their high school, we're not going to be asking for that. But the reason we are looking for this type of academic preparation is because A, we hear from our faculty that it is predictive of how well students do in the classroom.

And B, because when you come to Yale, you're actually going to be asked to take a wide range of courses. We do have a foreign language form. We do ask students to either take three courses in an introductory foreign language when they start at Yale or two courses in a continuing language at minimum.

And so, we want to be looking at the transcript to see if students have had the opportunity to continue that work so we know they're going to be able to come here and meet the requirements that we have for our liberal arts education.

Lee Coffin:
That's really helpful. So, as we're looking at transcripts this year, so the seniors in high school would've been ninth graders during the Covid year. So, mostly remote around the world. How do we look at transcripts that had the foundational, I mean, one of you described it as a transitional moment?

It was, as Emily said, it's the transition from middle school to high school and there's some adjustment whether you're going straight through your public school system or you're shifting to an independent school or maybe you're now in a boarding school.

Ninth grade is a little speed bump in the move from K-12, but this was the Covid year for all the seniors today were ninth graders then. Is that relevant? Is that a factor in the way we're thinking about transcripts? Or has 10, 11 and 12 given students enough time to regroup?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
I think that there is enough time to regroup. I mean, I wouldn't be completely worried about a very difficult ninth grade year. Even in non-pandemic environments, we understand that students sometimes have a tough transition to high school, and we are looking more closely at more recent grades.

And there's definitely an opportunity for students to have an upward academic trajectory that will significantly tell the admissions committee a compelling story. Again, we're not looking for perfection.

So, the counter is if you're taking AP Calculus or AP Physics for the first time in your junior or senior year and you start getting a B, that's also not going to disqualify a student for being admitted to Yale.

We like the students who are challenging themselves and taking these courses. And there might be an opportunity for you to take a B and turn it into a B plus second semester and A minus second semester. And again, that profile is very relevant when you're not boiling things down to a singular number, but looking at the whole transcript.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. No, I had a question on my sheet to ask you. It says, when is a B okay? So, I'm glad you just went to the Bs to-

Jeremiah Quinlan:
I want to assure everyone that we admit plenty of students with Bs on their transcripts.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah, B doesn't mean bad.

Emily Roper-Doten:
And I just want to circle back to the fact that everything that a student is doing happens in context in some way. And so, part of the additional information we have to understand whether it's that tough start to high school or whether it's something was happening in the family, in the junior fall, we validate or, validate is the wrong word.

But we have additional pieces of information that come from the counselor letter or a teacher letter that helps us see not just the production of their educational experience, but what was happening in their world, what type of student they were.

And so, being able to look at a counselor letter and realize and learn from that counselor letter, there was something happening in the student's family, and parent was sick, there was a home transition, something that maybe shook that junior fall that we see that student come back in junior spring.

That's helpful information. So, for us to be able to do the research around that blip. If we see something that looks uncharacteristic of a student, we have opportunities to see what else was going on and we want to know what else was going on.

We're not just going to say, "Oh, that B." or worse, that that's going to be the end of the road for that particular application. We're going to look at these additional pieces of information to say, "Oh, something was happening." and this is how that student bounced back. The resilience of bouncing back actually tells a bigger story than what that individual grade did.

Lee Coffin:
Or maybe that teacher in AP European history or in calc was a tough grader. You know what I mean? Some teachers give Bs as high achieving. So, it prompts a question around teacher recs. I mean, you'd mentioned recommendations. But how does the teacher recommendation build off of connect to the transcripts? Or does it?

Emily Roper-Doten:
I think it allows us to see who the student actually is in the classroom. Is this the student whose hand is always up? Is this the student who stays after class to ask follow-up questions? Is this the student who sits back and is quiet that they're synthesizing the whole time and they pop up with an incredible aha moment that takes the entire class to a new place.

They're able to actually give us the story around how did we get to that transcript. It's a recommendation. It's a narrative. It's more story for us to be able to see and imagine how this individual student is going to show up in the lab, is going to show up in class. And so, it allows us to assess the more fuzzy love of learning and engagement in learning that maybe a transcript can't tell us the whole story.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. It's like teacher recs amplify data, amplify the grades. Or even an AP score, sometimes there's a B that turns into a five or a C that turns into a five and the teacher's like, "Here's the proof this student really, really tore through my curriculum." I want to go back a bit to preparation in two different ways. And for Emily, you spent many years as dean in an engineering context.

For our listeners who are pondering a more quantitative college curriculum, does our assessment of a transcript differ in the way we assess preparation for maybe an engineering school or maybe a business program that's got more of a quantitative focus, but we'll stick with engineering because that's where you were.

Emily Roper-Doten:
It does and that we are looking for the building blocks that engineering sits on. That's math and that's science. And so, for my time at Olin, we were really looking for evidence of calculus. We wanted to see calculus in the high school experience because our curriculum made an assumption that there was calculus there.

And so, again, to this idea that you want students to be successful once they get on campus, being able to work with your faculty as an admission person to say, where is the tipping point for us in terms of where that student success could be. We also were looking for physics, that's one of the core sciences that engineering is built on.

So, we were looking to see where did the student take courses in calculus and in physics in high school. And for Olin, those were required. Now, that I'm at Clark, they're not required. But I might be looking at someone who's applying with an intention to choose one of our business degrees.

And I might not be looking for calculus, but I'm probably looking for pre-calc. And so, making sure, again, to see is the foundation laid? It doesn't have to be their favorite subject or the top subject in terms of their performance in those sorts of things, but we're looking for foundations on which we can build. And so, for engineering in particular, I would have students and parents think about how does their preparation set them up for that foundation.

The caveat, of course, is making sure that you're double checking the institutions you're thinking about because just because my experience in a couple of engineering programs had that foundation of calculus in high school and upper-level physics in high school doesn't mean that every single one is going to, but it's really worth looking at what the requirements are based on the school that you're interested in.

Lee Coffin:
That's a really important "news you can use" point, Emily around the list making. And I think hiding the name of the school is also what's required and what are the foundational pieces you need to bring from high school into college.

Lee Coffin:
Jeremiah, so in the liberal arts context, with a STEM-oriented student, someone checks off bio, pre-med, environmental science, whatever, would you read a file in a similar way as Emily's description of engineering? Or is it a little less specific coming into a program like yours where you're not admitting people into majors?

Jeremiah Quinlan: 
Yeah, I think that's exactly right, Lee. It's less specific. We do ask on the Yale-specific part of the applications students to list three academic interests. We ask for three because as a liberal arts institution and we want students to be able to choose broadly.

Many students who apply and get admitted to Yale choose subjects across disciplines. They'll list Music, English and Biology. And that gives us a bit of an understanding of what a student might want to do in college, aka, lots of different things, which is really great.

And then, we're looking at the broader academic credentials in the ways that I mentioned before. There are some cases where the application file is particularly angular, and it's very clear that a student wants to come to Yale and study engineering.

They list three of our engineering majors on the academic interest section. And then, obviously, we're going to look pretty closely at the preparation in math and physics because we do hear from our engineering faculty how important those areas are in preparation. So, in some cases, yes. And in most cases, it's a bit of a broader review.

Lee Coffin:
I mean, I would add that as I've started to do some reads already for-

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Oh, man, I can't believe we're there.

Lee Coffin:
No, I started to practice again. And I catch myself reading a transcript and looking for patterns on it. And to say, I see a student who's mostly As, I read one yesterday where there was lots of As on the transcript, but they know there's some 80s, it was 100-point transcript.

And I said, "There are some 80s every year." And I looked. And yup, connecting the dots. Every year, it was an 80 something in math. And I flipped back to the first page of the file to see what's the academic interest, and it was math. And I thought, "Well, that's interesting."

So, that the student is projecting math as a major, the lowest grades on the transcript are in mathematics, but the testing, which was quite extraordinary on the math side. These grades and the testing are telling very different stories and the teacher explained it.

But the point I'm trying to make here is "patterns." As we read from nine to 12, how's the curriculum developing? How do the grade patterns follow that shifting curriculum? I always describe myself as a word person who landed in the Humanities as my major.

And if I were diagramming my own high school transcript, I leaned into the English social studies part, foreign languages part of my high school more than science, math. I took those courses, but they weren't my jam. I lived more happily in the humanities, and that was true in college. So, anyway.

Jeremiah Quinlan:
I think patterns is a really helpful way to think about the transcript. Think about it in patterns. Don't think about it as what GPA number it boils down to. I like that articulation.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah, patterns. So, Jeremiah, so many of our listeners live outside the United States. And you had some experience before Yale working in Singapore. So, you have an international lens on transcripts.

So, for our friends outside the United States, when we read a transcript from a high school in a non-US context, what's the preparation question there that we need to understand stand before we can offer someone admission?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
Obviously, that's a complicated answer depending on what country a student is applying for. So, I just want to assure everyone who's listening to this podcast that I have a very dedicated and experienced team of international admissions officers who have read files from outside of the United States for decades.

And so, we are deeply familiar with the context and what the academic preparation and opportunities look like in say, Hungary versus Singapore versus Korea versus Brazil. And we really value the expertise of those individuals.

We will obviously look in some context, the transcripts aren't necessarily the same type of temperature check on academic performance as they might be in some US context. They might be predictions about international baccalaureate or O-Level exams if their students are in a British system.

And so, we'll look closely at those exam results and the transcripts that schools provide us. But again, we understand that it might be slightly different metrics and evaluations, but still very valuable.

We want to see students who are going to do very well on their IB exams or their A-Level exams or their national exams. And we, again, go to great lengths to become experts in what the top national leaving exam marks are so that we can review those reports with an understanding of who's prepared to do well at Yale.

Lee Coffin:
And for students for whom English is not the either home language or the language of instruction, many if not all colleges in the United States will ask a student to do some English proficiency testing, historically, TOEFL the Test of English Foreign Language.

Other tests have wandered into this like Duolingo, which is a new platform. For a listener, for whom this is going to be the case, like English is not their family language or their school language, what guidance do we give around testing as a way of assessing both preparation but also ability to thrive in an English-speaking classroom?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
It's something we're going to be looking pretty closely at when we're reviewing a file from a candidate where English is not the primary language of instruction. We do require that non-native English speakers who have not taken at least two years of secondary education where English is the language of instruction submit an English proficiency exam.

Whether it's the TOEFL, the IELTS, a Duolingo initial view, Cambridge English exams. Our website has a broad list of what is acceptable. But if English is not the primary language of instruction for at least two years of your high school, we are going to require you submit the English proficiency.

And obviously, we also will look at English proficiency and things like the application and the essays. So, there's other opportunities for us. We do still conduct interviews, so there are opportunities for us to test conversational English and written English in other ways, but the English proficiency exam is a pretty key part of that.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. Emily, does that sound right to you as well?

Emily Roper-Doten:
We would want a student to be able to provide, if it's not their native language or not their language of instruction, we would love to have that testing just as that double check as Jeremiah is talking about to make sure that we have that confidence.

If a student believes that their ability is strong enough that that testing wouldn't necessarily be useful to us, they can actually submit a waiver, a request for a waiver. We will look at the student's transcript.

We'll look at the background before we agree to a waiver just to make sure we've got, again, our bases covered, that we're feeling comfortable that this is someone who can be successful in our classrooms based on their English ability.

But the other thing I wanted to mention too is that there are a number of schools that have pathway programs. And so, it may not be a matter of have you hit a particular score or a particular range of scores demonstrating English ability? That is an ultimate yes or no.

But is there a possibility for a student to be admitted to a semester long pathway program in English where they're able to come to campus, they're able to really elevate those skills so that they can both feel comfortable and confident in our classrooms, and we can be confident in their abilities in our classrooms.

And so, there may be opportunities for students where they're just about there in terms of that proficiency. And so, being able to know where those programs exist and that it's probably just a part of the application reading process that we may come back to you and say, "We think you're a fabulous future Clarkey, we'd love to admit you to this English pathway program."

If successful in that program, you have guaranteed admission for the next semester. So, thinking about it's not always just a one-way street to getting in or a one set of tests that might dictate the direction of an application.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. Let's do a quick speed round. So, questions we get when we do programs in high schools or answer emails. My high school offers an unweighted grade point average, and I'm wondering what the differences between unweighted and weighted and is that significant, Emily?

Emily Roper-Doten:
So, an unweighted transcript or an unweighted GPA would just be a rote calculation of all of the grades. A weighted GPA would be one where there's a little bit of a numerical bump given to those courses that are designated as more challenging.

Every college or university may look at what's reported by the high school. They may say, "We're going to put everybody on the same scale and recalculate." and note how rigor plays in a different way. We might note, this student is taking an exceptionally challenging curriculum.

This student is challenging themselves in some areas. So, we're able to piece together what those things mean regardless of how a high school individually reports it. There are so many different ways to calculate GPAs across the country that we need to be able to make that legible to our teams as we're reading.

Jeremiah Quinlan:
You can only have your GPA produced in the way that your high school produces to the GPA. We understand that. We control for those differences. And as I said, we don't really get too hyper-focused on the actual number, and it's really about what the patterns and the transcripts. So, it's not a big deal and not something I would worry about.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. How about class rank?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
So, few schools are providing class rank these days that it isn't particularly helpful to us. It's something that we see, I would say less frequently and in fewer and fewer applications.

I mean, obviously, class rank can help tell a bit of the story, and I usually recommend that students should think about applying to Yale if they're in the top 10% of their high school graduating class.

But again, these fine-grain differences between a student who's second in their class of 400 versus student who's eighth in their class of 400, those types of distinctions aren't going to make a difference to the admissions readers or the admissions committees at Yale. It's going to be much more about the story that your transcript tells underneath that rank.

Lee Coffin:
Yup. What does the percent of four-year college tell us?

Emily Roper-Doten:
It tells us about the college going culture at that particular high school. So, it gives us a chance to see what the academic focus might be like, what type of guidance the students may have. It's not something that we're reflecting back on the student's performance necessarily, but it's more about the environmental context.

I think about, in my own experience, my high school, 45% went onto four-year colleges. We had a percentage of our students who were in that college going culture and a percentage of our students that weren't.

And so, we had the ability to be advised by college counselors and have teachers that were offering some upper-level courses, but it was certainly a different environment than one where 100% is going on.

And so, there is an interesting context there around maybe some of those strivers in a community that where the college going isn't the assumption for every single student. So, again, it's really about how we're understanding where a student's coming from.

Lee Coffin:
So, we've been talking about grades and numbers. Some high schools use words as their form of assessment. So, a mastery transcript, as they're known, will have a more qualitative way of giving a student feedback on academic performance. So, if you're a student in a high school where the transcript or the report card is more narrative than letter number-based, what do we do with that? Jeremiah?

Jeremiah Quinlan:
We rely on the expertise of our admissions officers to read these files as a group, to read them over the course of several years so that they can understand if there are no grades available, how the faculty at those schools are differentiating their students in their letters of recommendation.

Or if it's a school that's using a Mastery transcript, what the differences are in the Mastery transcript. And it's that person's job then to also explain that to the admissions committee when review those applications.

Emily Roper-Doten:
The only thing I would add is to take comfort, families, and the fact that what we are doing in the reading process looks more like a Mastery transcript with narrative than a transcript with numbers.

Lee Coffin:
That's true.

Emily Roper-Doten:
Many of us, we're writing a lot in terms of we're documenting, we're pulling quotes from things. Our job is going to be to tell your story, to the admission committee. And so, if you think of the fact that we're not, and Jeremiah has said this before, we're not trying to boil you down to a number or a word.

And so, we actually write a lot. It would be interesting and perhaps terrifying if we were actually to count the number of words we all generate during the reading process. But our reporting, what we're documenting looks far more like a narrative transcript than it does like a number or letter based one.

And so, we're going to pull those things, as Jeremiah says, from the experts in your high school and give them to the experts in our readers to be able to assess those transcripts as well.

Lee Coffin:
And I think that the broad takeaway as we're having this conversation is we go one by one, school by school, region by region. And the reassurance, I hope you're hearing that is the selective universe is still individualized. So, there are lots of different varieties of transcripts that we see even sometimes within the same region.

And as admission officers, that's our job to figure out where are we? This is why we visit schools in the fall too. Because as you go in and out, you learn things about the academic environment, the expectations, the college going culture, et cetera, and you build that into the way we read in context.

So, surprise, Emily and Jeremiah, we are having such a fun and robust conversation that we are going to divide this episode in two. So, we just finished part one, Data Dump Transcripts.

And for listeners next week, tune in again for Data Dump Part Two, Testing. Thanks, Jeremiah and Emily for this really thoughtful deep dive into all things transcript. 

For now, this is Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for listening, and we will come back to this topic in next week's episode.