Q&A: Does a college look at what type of diploma my student earned?

January and February are prime time for high school guidance counselors, parents, and students to meet and discuss course selections for registration. A number of friends wrote with questions about courses and choices. Here’s one.

Q.  Do you know if universities pay attention to whether a high school student is going for the regular Virginia diploma vs. the advanced one? Would having almost all, but not quite all, of the required credits for the advanced diploma be sufficient?

For non-Virginia readers:  rising 9th graders are asked to select which diploma they hope to achieve. The advanced diploma requires four years of Math, Lab Science, History/Social Science (rather than three), and three years of a Foreign Language (rather than two). There are other smaller differences (and you can read all about them here if you wish; heaven help you), but those are the key factors.

A.  The short answer:  I doubt they pay specific attention to whether or not the student hit every target on the Advanced Studies diploma, but they probably pay close attention to whether or not the student hit every target on their own list — which, for selective schools, will be very similar to the Advanced Studies list.QandA block

For the second question, about having almost all of the requirements — that would likely not be sufficient for a super-selective school, but would be sufficient for other schools. That’s where the standard disclaimer, “it depends,” comes into play. A student who did not get accepted to a school that only takes 15% of applicants could be a star at a school that accepts 45%.

Now, a few thoughts and questions for you as further information (which may or may not be useful).

1.  Does your high school include which type of diploma the student achieved — or attempted — on their HS transcript? Our high school’s transcript changes in response to changes in policy, so it has the potential to be different for almost every graduating class.


Western’s profile is online in the Counseling Dept. files.

Mod Squad Pete’s and M.S. Julie’s transcripts have a note at the top that says, “Student has completed the Early College Scholar Program agreement.” I think that refers to their signing off with the guidance counselor that they were going after the Advanced Diploma.

Also, find your school profile. This accompanies the student’s transcript when it’s sent to colleges. I would assume it is similar to our HS profile, which provides the context for the student’s experience, listing the grading scale, size of school, National Merit and SAT results for the school, class ranks, AP Exam results, and graduation requirements (both standard and advanced). You should be able to pull a copy of this from your school’s website. Your HS counselors should be able to give you a copy of a sample transcript. Admission staff certainly looks at each student within the context of his or her own school and how the course list compares to courses taken by other students in the school.

This is all so you can see, ahead of time, exactly how the colleges would see the information you’re asking about.

2.  Next, look at colleges to which your daughter may wish to apply. Every college must make reams of admission data public when they submit it to the government. Many, many websites provide that data in easily-searchable formats for students and parents to see. (This is also the source for the college guidebooks.) One of my favorites is CollegeData (owned by a bank, but offering an excellent format of search results) but there are loads to choose from.

Take UVa for example. They specify the courses they look for on the HS transcript, as in how many math, science, English, foreign language, etc. You can see that here, broken down by “required” and “recommended.” They also publish the priority of student data — which is most important to them and which is less so — lower on that same page. See Selection of Students and Factors: top on UVa’s list is rigor of HS record.


Now, a question for readers of this blog:  Do students in others states have to choose a type of diploma or state a college-oriented goal in some way? Please let me know in comments.

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Filed under Getting In, High School

One response to “Q&A: Does a college look at what type of diploma my student earned?

  1. Pingback: Follow up: What do colleges want to see? | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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