• Dr. Thom

High School Profiles: How your high school can best advocate for your application


The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, United States. Photo by Parker Gibbons on Unsplash

“Do college admissions officers really know my high school?!!”


I was leaning over the plastic table to make sure I heard the question from the north Chicago suburban student. Talking in the gym I had been standing in for the past 2.5 hours was almost pointless as anything that left your vocal cords would immediately disappear in the din of a thousand people collectively producing a sound much like a swarm of bees being broadcast into a PA system. Shouting was the only option available to me to try and communicate the nuances of our admissions process at the college fair.


I always prided myself on giving in depth answers to questions. I wanted students and families to understand the depth of admissions work, and how often things “depend” on so many other things. This is nearly impossible in this setting, especially since the insides of my throat felt like sandpaper.


You would be forgiven if you have forgotten what a college fair is, provided the now multi-year pandemic we have been experiencing - what with large crowds being a problem and all. College fairs are an opportunity for college representatives to stand behind tables draped with colorful banners to distribute even more colorful brochures. And answer questions. Lots and lots of questions. I truly enjoyed them as they were an opportunity to provide information in a more personal way. Sure, there were websites and brochures, but it was important for a student to be able to ask us in the admissions office about their specific circumstance.


Many times, the question would come up about how we as admissions officers knew about a particular high school. In many cases, the student would be interested in finding out how we could possibly know, with all of the students applying to our institution, what a good grade point average was at their high school. How could we know what Advanced Placement (AP) courses were available? Would it be a problem that my high school does not provide a rank in class?


The answer was that we, as admissions officers, had help in understanding the nuances of an individual high school by way of that school's profile. A high school profile is a vitally important document that high schools produce annually that accompanies the school transcript when one is sent to college admissions offices. It provides some essential information that assists admissions offices in accurately reviewing and understanding your student’s grades and curriculum.


Typical high school profiles will include:


  • Information regarding the school’s philosophy, educational approach, and grading scales. This is especially important if there is a unique aspect of the school’s ideology, such as the Dawson School in Colorado, which highlights its commitment to experiential education in their profile.

  • Course availability, especially regarding AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. It is important for college admissions officers to understand what constitutes a rigorous curriculum at various high schools, and this starts with understanding what is available to students. You can see an example of how high schools do this on the profile of Adlai E. Stevenson High School (IL), which offers among the most AP courses in the U.S. On the flip side, a high school like the Castilleja School in Palo Alto, CA makes sure to let admissions officers not to expect their students to present transcripts with more than 5 core academic courses per semester, as they encourage their students to balance their course loads.

  • Profiles can also help colleges understand what a typical course sequence should be for students at a given high school. The profile for the Atlanta International School (GA) does a fantastic job of this.

  • Given the dramatic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on nearly every aspect of student life, most high school profiles have been explaining to colleges the measures they took to continue schooling during the pandemic. The Casady School (OK) is a solid example of how this might look.


So my question for you is: have you seen the profile that your high school will be sending to colleges on your behalf (or on behalf of your student)? If not, we would encourage you to ask your college counseling office for a copy. It is a vitally important document that helps college admissions officers get to know your student in the context of where they go to high school.


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