How to make a homeschooler’s transcript

Most students wanting to go to college will need to present some sort of evidence of what they’ve done in school. Most kids use a transcript, so the first question is how can homeschooled students create a transcript?

It seems pretty straightforward to me that they should just make one up. Put a list of courses the kid has done material for and the grade the kid earned. Although certainly you should say the kid got all A’s. Because why not? Each course of study has it’s own standards, which the college knows. And each course has different grading systems. If the kid passes then you are free to call that an A.

For those of you who are cringing, let it be known that this is officially how graduate school works. You get an A or a C. Getting a C is sort of like a fail in graduate school because you can’t get a job in academia with a C on your record. So if the college calls you for a discussion about your grading system, you could just tell them, “pass is A, fail is C.” They know you’re a homeschooler, so they can’t fault you for having your own grading system.

Anyway, every school sort of has their own grading system because a GPA is something that is always relative to other kids in the school. For example a 4.0 is different if it’s from a rural farming school versus a private school in Connecticut.

So since you are making it up, just make it all A’s. It would be absurd if you make it up and don’t make it all A’s. The question would be why? What is the point? To try to convince them that this GPA has meaning relative to other kids? And that begs the question, which kids?

The transcript system is random in its ranking and inadequate in its breadth, so a lot of homeschool parents opt for portfolios instead of transcripts. (And, given that this is an option for homeschoolers, surely school kids with spotty transcripts also opt for the portfolio.)

I figure we are likely to do that, since we don’t have a curricula plan in our house. For my cellist son he’ll probably just have an (insanely high-pressure) audition. But for my STEM-major son we’ll probably have a portfolio. I am not sure what we’ll put in it, so I save a lot.

I have the whole Lego architecture series that the cats use as a playground when they sneak into the garage. I have a model of the solar system that he built. It’s falling apart behind the ping-pong table, and in fact, most of the stuff I saved is becoming a mess in the garage. What if I need to take pictures of it or, worse yet, send a solar system to an admissions officer? I need this stuff to stay clean and safe.

I want to get a storage area for all the stuff I am saving for the portfolio. I know this is totally against Marie Kondo’s method but she is not homeschooling. (If she were, would she make housecleaning part of the curriculum?) The thing about a storage unit is I’d want a place like Closetbox, that picks up right at your house. I don’t want to have to schlep stuff there all the time. And while there are a gazillion Closetbox locations, there is not one in Wisconsin farmland.

So I started taking pictures of everything. Like, this is my son’s kitten project: he captured all the cats on the farm to spay and neuter them so we don’t have a kitten population problem.

He forgot one cat. Which proved fatal to his plan the following spring.

But that wouldn’t be in the pictures. We could have an Instagram portfolio. Or whatever is the hipster equivalent of Instagram when my son is applying to college.

Or maybe my son will tell his own story. It occurs to me that if you have to tell a story through pictures then the person who curates the pictures is the one who tells the story. But if my son wanted someone else to tell his story, he’d enroll in school and define himself with the grades they give him after he learns the material they give him.

So I guess I don’t like the picture idea either.

Which brings me to AP tests. The point of a portfolio is to show that the kid has actually done something to prepare himself for college. So maybe he’ll just get a stack of Princeton Review books and take a bunch of AP tests. At this point, I’m worn out from being a test-taking kid-ranking revolutionary. I just want my son to have options. AP tests are a tried and true way to show competence. And I want to clean out my garage.


17 replies
  1. Ali
    Ali says:

    I follow both of your blogs and like them very much. It seems to me that you should really just have one blog as unschooling, applying for college, and managing a career and applying for jobs are all part of the same continuum. If a career is about presenting your story coherently and one should always have an updated resume in order to better understand one’s story, why shouldn’t kids start that process when they are school age? Sure, you don’t know what to keep now because your kids don’t know yet what story they want to project – but what about midlife career changers? They may also need to go back to revisit their past experiences through a new lens. It could be a valuable lesson for everyone that will ever be a job seeker that we should learn to manage data about our accomplishments, if it’s a list of quantified bullet points or a series of short videos on periscope, or a visual portfolio of work.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    It seems like you’re actually arguing that a transcript is a useless hoop that homeschoolers have to jump through. If you can make it be whatever you want, what’s the point of it in the first place?

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I have spoken with a few parents who were able to come up with a transcript that colleges accepted and where their kids are now thriving. There are so many examples on the internet that show you how to design one that there really is no excuse to not put one together for ones college-bound child.

    It isn’t a matter of simply grades, one needs to show equivalents for English 1 and 2 etc. top unis will want to see test scores and recommendation letters paired with an excellent essay submission along with a transcript that has exactly what they are looking for.

    Motivated unschooled children should not have any problems covering what is required in some capacity. Parents can transfer that into what is needed on a transcript.

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I would recommend your son learn how to take photos and short video clips with a camera and longer video clips with a camcorder to document his learning journey. It will help him to focus on his goals and learn how to use visual equipment to convey a visual message. In this case to the colleges and universities to which he’s applying. As an example of conveying a visual message from your son holding the kitten in the photo above, I think his hands are too clean and “soft”. Take a picture while his hands are still gritty with dirt under his fingernails.

    • Rachel Crossen
      Rachel Crossen says:

      this is any interesting read but she had to first get accepted into UVA in order to get that interview for the scholarship and having just gone through the UVA application process I can tell you it is only submitted numbers and essays online. No personal interview option. And boy do they want the numbers. AP classes with all A’s and high scores on the AP exams and high SAT scores too. So unfortunately, those things are very important to acceptance.

  5. Uriel
    Uriel says:


    Can you get someone in to photograph all that stuff beautifully, *put it into* an Instagram account or Tumblr now (on private mode is fine), interview your son for each piece he created in a heavy-details eliciting way, and *skillfully write it up right now* on the Tumblr? (I’d do it for you guys but I am in Canada).

    His stories are fresh *now* and needless to mention so are the projects.

    I think since admissions officers will be considering lots of kids his age at the time of admission, what could make him look cooler than pithy little interviews from when he was younger showing how smart he was even *then.*

    As a fellow Asp I know how genius we can seem at a young age… but as an INTJ your son may not do self promo so well right now. Interviews solve that problem.

    Like a ghost writer.
    But eliciting genius.

    And you know what? At worst it’s a little sentimental time capsule that can be saved digitally. And a clean garage.

    And a clean mind.

    Your Gemini-Pisces fan

    • Marissa
      Marissa says:

      This is genius. I’m a homeschooling mama and I may just do what you have suggested.

  6. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I’m not sure liking to hug kittens will adequately differentiate a child from other applicants.

    I had figured until recently I’d be in the position of making a high school transcript for a homeschooler (and who knows, I may end up there later). One thing I take for granted is that if a kid can’t make a compelling case in his own words for why he should be accepted to a college, he shouldn’t go. That’s a starting point.

    The other thing a homeschooler must be able to point to, in the absence of third-party overall records, is achievement. The achievements must be related to the case for attendance – it must be easy to understand how the kid’s achievements substantiate his narrative. Independent “in the basement” type achievements can work for this, but they would have to be pretty stunning, not the type of things kids typically do in seventh grade public school earth science with papier-mache and pipe cleaners.

    Achievements that show leadership, teamwork, long-term focus, or demonstrate competitiveness vis-a-vis peer groups will be more effective. Creating institutions that persevere is one of the best skills any person could have; the purpose of the institution could be less relevant than the skills. There are a lot of competitions these days in the science sphere, as necessary equipment becomes cheaper and more portable. Example:

    Vacation type achievements (e.g. dad paid 5K so kid could spend two weeks “helping” turtles on the beach in Costa Rica) will likely not bolster a kid’s case for being anything but spoiled.

    I consider lack of institutional standardization an opportunity, rather than a problem, as relates to proving one’s case for college acceptance as well as for study in the first place. The consideration of grounds for acceptance can lead a kid to a better understanding of their work and focus.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think people really underestimate how much science farmers do. Your comment “liking to hug kittens” reminds me of this.

      Managing a cat population on a farm requires the same skills for managing populations of wild animals in any environment. It’s difficult to catch them, they must be sorted and tagged, it’s expensive so there’s a lot of negotiating for funding, and there’s always the risk of outside populations infiltrating.

      I find this attitude toward farmers all the time. For example, there is a university study about milk cows and the research team is buying up cows in the area. They spend three hours looking for a certain genetic typing within a herd, but the farmers always know which cow fits the genetic profile. It’s just that the researchers rarely ask — they assume farmers manage genetics instinctively rather than scientifically, but it’s not true.


      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        It’s nice to be all morally outraged on the behalf of farmers. I have no doubt that many farmers are brilliant people who work way harder than I ever will, and also know lots of things.

        But you are not a farmer. And your kids are not farmers. You are city people who live on a farm right now. Your husband is a farmer, but you are at most a hobbyist.

        As you so eloquently described in your linked post, you and your kids are the ones who caused the cat population problem on your farm. And then you had an idea for mitigating the problem you caused. And then your idea failed in its application.

        It’s got nothing to do with science. It’s just city people messing up a farm with naive ideas. You like to hug cats. So you fed them. And then the population exploded. Which you failed to remedy.

        None of this is going to be the least bit relevant to college admissions, unless your son really milks the memoir genre to make a tear-jerking narrative about it. “Tell us about something you tried to do, which failed.”

        Trying to fluff things up to make them out to be something they aren’t is a bad tactic to take with college admissions, because they read hundreds of fake stories; they’re experts in the genre of fudged achievement.

        I hope you shipped the extra kittens to the city rather than just shooting or drowning them like a farmer would. There’s a shortage of kittens in many cities, because everybody spays and neuters their cats. It’s how I got my kittens.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Pretty cool link Bostonian. Awesome kids with cool experiments. I wonder if one of the rockets my husband works on will launch the winning experiment.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I like the idea of a portfolio option and would love to just give photos of my kid dissecting a squid from science class as proof she did science, but I know for a fact that major institutions are coming back and telling homeschool parents that they need to create a non-narrative traditional transcript for their college bound kids. It’s better to start putting together something now, than waiting to scramble at the last minute.

  8. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Bostonian made me do it, now I have to share two of my kittens stories.

    In Baltimore and surroundings, cats are an issue. Once I was lost in the ‘hood in the city, and I had to stop my car, at night, due to a cat sitting in the middle of the road, bathing. I panicked I was in some kind of car-jacking hi-jinx, and sat, staring and stunned, that even cats behaved so differently in the bad parts of the city. The cat practically flipped me off before moving on.

    One day during my living-in-sin days with the husband, he came home with two city cats, kittens really. We call them city cats because they are ill-behaved urchins that do not clean up well, have poor communication skills, no affection for anyone outside their immediate circle and managed to both get pregnant at the ripe age of ~ 6months.

    We got these city-cats from an elderly friend who fed cats in the alley behind his rowhouse. He would buy lunch meat, from the deli, every two weeks, to feed his brood.

    By the time I noticed something was amiss with our new kitties’ bulging bellies it was really too late. When we took our 8 new kittens in to the vets, we got lectured big time, about how there are so many cats in the world and why were we so irresponsible.

    Now many years later we have 3 left with us. We tried to give the kittens away, but they came back, in a trickle. And I never would hear of any of my kittens going to the pound, so we got back the pee-er’s and the ones who moved to places that did not allow cats. We have two buried in the yard.

    It was all worth it, and I would do it again. Those were the best days, coming home from work and playing with the kittens. Each had a different personality. I have a group picture of them on my bookshelf, little kitties mesmerized by the flash. I wish we could have a litter of kittens every few years, and puppies too, but the world is an over-crowded place, and disease for outdoor cats is rampant.

    Often I pull the picture off the shelf and show my husband, and we both smile and talk about, remember when.

  9. Helen
    Helen says:

    Thank you. My son who began homeschooling his 11th grade year has excelled tremendously. We didn’t know anyone who homeschooled their child so this has been a journey full of ‘find outs’. Thank you for your detailed info so I can make him his official high school transcript.

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