You may be surprised by the number of unfamiliar terms associated with college and college life. Undergraduate, TA, accreditation, Greek life, the FAFSA—high school counselors and college admissions officers use these terms every day. Unfortunately, they don’t always stop to explain what each term means.
The “College Speak” series explains the college-oriented vocab that you need to be in the know and focus on the more important questions, such as “which school would be the best fit for me?”
Today’s terms are:
- secondary school report, and
- mid-year and final reports.
Every college will request a copy of your high school transcript as part of its application. You should inform your high school of the colleges to which you are applying—they will mail your transcript on your behalf directly to these schools.
Obviously, the higher your grades, the better your odds of admission at any given college. If you grades show steady and significant improvement, that will also help your chances. The opposite trend is, of course, frowned upon.
Additionally, it’s important to avoid any real or apparent “coasting.” This means you should always have at least a few challenging classes on your schedule. (You should never have just gym, health, art, and three free periods. Even as a senior.) You should take honors or AP classes if you think you can get a B or better in them.
The reason to take hard classes is that, in addition to your grades, your transcript will be judged on a factor called “strength of schedule,” something that is also addressed in your Secondary School Report (see below).
You’ll give this form to your school, and it will be completed by one of its counselors, most likely the one who handles college-related stuff. As it did with your transcript, your high school will mail the completed Secondary School Report directly to the appropriate college(s).
So what information does the Secondary School Report include? Some of it is a rehash of info that the college will ask you to provide on its main application form—e.g., your GPA, your class rank, and whether you have any disciplinary history.
It also, however, includes some questions that do not appear on the main application. It asks the counselor his or her opinion of the strength of your schedule (in other words, the extent to which you chose challenging classes). It also asks him or her for subjective assessments of your schoolwork, after-school activities, and “personal character.” Finally, it provides a space for general comments about you.
You may be thinking that your school’s college counselor doesn’t know you that well—how could he or she possibly answer all of these questions?
I wouldn’t worry too much about this. If the counselor really doesn’t know who you are, he or she will ask one of your teachers. With regards to the general comments section, most counselors have a handful of standard responses that they give. The sheer number of these forms that they get requires fast responses.
So why does the Secondary School Report ask for comments if colleges usually get stock replies? The main function of this section is to allow the counselor to elaborate on any special issues (often those of a disciplinary nature) of which he or she thinks the college should be aware. For this reason, you should probably try to mention these issues yourself—if you have any—in some other part of the application. You don’t want the college to think that you’re trying to hide something.
Mid-Year and Final Reports: Colleges don’t like the idea that you might stop working once you’ve submitted your application. As proof, some will send a letter to admitted students that warns them not to slack off.
But how would a college know if you slack off towards the end of the year? Its main weapon is to require a Final Report from your high school. This is another application form that you will give to your school and that it will complete and send directly to the college. The form requests your final grades for your senior year, which most likely weren’t available when you sent a copy of your transcript.
A college may also require a Mid-Year Report prior to the Final Report if no senior-year grades were available at all when you sent your transcript.
What might happen if your grades on either report represent a decline from your transcript grades? You may be placed on academic probation for your first year of college, or your offer of admission might be totally rescinded. You should try to avoid either situation—neither one is fun.