We know that spring is the time when many homeschool families work on transcripts. To help out, we’re offering a 30% discount  on all Transcript Maker plans using the code HOME2020.

This is the second part of our 6-part series on the foundations of homeschool transcripts. Read part 1.

Courses are the “meat” of a great transcript. A well-rounded lineup of high school coursework shows an admissions department that your student is ready for college-level work. 

Needless to say, that’s a big deal—and it’s crucial to get this part of a transcript right!

In today’s blog post, we’ll cover the basics of handling courses and credit hours in a way sure to impress admissions departments.

Course essentials

Here are the elements you must include on your transcript:

  • A name that uniquely identifies the course, such as “Algebra II”
  • Subject area the course falls under, such as “Math” or “Science”
  • Credits awarded for completing the course
  • Grade earned by the student
  • Year in which the course was taken 

Here are four tips to get you started.

1. Create standard, professional titles for courses

Don’t get too creative here! It’s a good idea to look at the terminology typically used by public and private schools, such as:

  • English Composition
  • Business Math
  • Earth Science
  • U.S. History

2. Organize your courses based on the college’s preferences

There are so many ways to organize courses—by subject, semester, or school year—but it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think.

How you organize a transcript will vary based on the requirements of the college you’re applying to. Some colleges are strict about wanting to see semesters, while others don’t have a requirement and will accept a transcript organized by year or subject. When in doubt, check with a college admissions officer or your local school district.

The most common approach is to organize by school year. This is a nice balance between organizing by subject and semester. Courses are split into four groups, one for each year of high school. It’s very easy to read a transcript organized like this. It’s simple to change the order if a particular college or university wants to see something different.

Read more: What every homeschool family should know about Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams

3. Assign appropriate credit hours

Most times, it’s easy to come up with course titles and course groupings. The harder question is how much credit you should assign to each course. 

A typical high school transcript will list enough courses to bring the number of credits earned to 24. Courses are generally awarded either 1.0 or 0.5 credit hours. Smaller electives are sometimes awarded 0.25 credit hours. Courses with credit hours outside this range are used in some localities. Check with your local school district if you’re unsure what’s used in your area.

How many actual hours of classroom time equals one credit hour? Standards will vary, but it’s typically safe to assume that 130 to 180 hours of classroom time (roughly, a class that meets for one hour per day for the duration of a school year) equals one credit hour. If a student takes a particularly rigorous course or one that requires far more time than typical, consider classifying it as an honors course.

Read more: Five essential transcript credits every homeschooler needs (and how to calculate them)

4. Add course descriptions

Courses are one of the most overlooked parts of a great homeschool transcript. They’re also one of the most important.

Because home schools don’t have the same uniform approaches as public or private schools, it can be hard for an admissions officer to know what a course titled “Introduction to American History” actually covers. More detail is needed, and that’s where course descriptions come in.

Course descriptions are the key to explaining precisely what a student covered in a course and how he or she was evaluated for proficiency. They give a helpful snapshot of a course, are useful for explaining and justifying an “honors” ranking for a particular course as well, and help clarify courses taken through dual enrollment, with a tutor, or through a co-op.

At a basic level, your course descriptions should include these core elements:

  • School and teacher name
  • Course type (e.g., regular, honors, AP, or dual enrollment)
  • Credit earned
  • Which textbooks and tools were used
  • An overview of what a student learned
  • Methodology and grade evaluation

Read more: How to write awesome course descriptions

What’s next: How to get the most out of grades and GPA