How to write awesome course descriptions

How’d you like to know a little secret sure to make your high school transcript stand out from the pack? It’s one of the most overlooked—yet crucially important—parts of a transcript. I’m talking about course descriptions.

Most of us work hard to develop accurate, uniform course titles, but the truth is many college admissions departments want to see a lot more. 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.

Well-written, comprehensive course descriptions aren’t just important for admissions departments, though. Other entities (such as scholarship committees) might want to see this added detail, too! So it always pays to have them prepared alongside your transcript.

If that process sounds intimidating, don’t worry—this blog post will step you through the process. 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

A good approach is to attach your course descriptions as an addendum to a transcript. Space your text so that you end up with one to two course descriptions per page.

Here are some additional tips for creating fantastic course descriptions:

  • Start early: It can be a good idea to write and keep track of course descriptions at the beginning of the school year, or at at a minimum during the actual school year. That way, when it’s time to assemble the information on the transcript, the heavy lifting is already done.
  • Find the right tools: A big question is where to find tools to help write a course description. If you’re using a textbook alone, most publishers include a concise description that overviews the content, and you can pull from there. Or you can piece together a description from the table of contents. If the coursework involves several textbooks or combination of materials and experiences—commonly referred to as a unit study—you’ll need to get more creative. You’ll probably need to write the description from scratch, but you can cobble it together from various resources, including those on the Internet.
  • Feel free to duplicate your work: If a student takes the same type of course multiple semesters throughout high school, it’s OK to use the same course description for each one. Just ensure the courses are truly identical. If different topics are covered or capacities are learned, you should craft a distinct description.
  • Keep it short and concise: College admissions departments want to see that a particular course covers the essential elements of the topic at hand. A medium-length paragraph should be enough to accomplish this, so aim to keep it short and to-the-point!
  • As always, check the requirements of your college: Some schools require course descriptions, while others don’t. Most times, you can easily check to see whether a given institution asks for these by searching its website, but you can also call the admissions department directly.

To give you an idea of what a completed course description looks like, here’s an example using Saxon math Algebra 1, a popular textbook with homeschool high school families. The course description is adapted from the publisher’s website.

Algebra I

School Name: Keystone Academy

Teacher Name: Mrs. Smith

Course Type: Regular

Credit: 1

Textbooks and Materials: Saxon Algebra 1 Student Edition

Course Overview: Algebra 1 is an introductory high-school level course that covers key algebra concepts and builds the algebraic foundation essential for students to solve increasingly complex problems. Higher order thinking skills use real-world applications, reasoning, and justification to make connections to math strands. Algebra 1 focuses on algebraic thinking and multiple representations—verbal, numeric, symbolic, and graphical. Mathematical situations are also modeled through graphing calculator labs.

Evaluation Methodology: Students were graded 40% on quizzes throughout the semester, 50% on a final exam, and 10% on a short essay on the origins of Algebra.

Grading Scale: A (90-100), B (80-89), C (70-79), D (60-69), F (0-59)

Want some more examples? You can access a helpful lineup of example course descriptions from the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) here.

Good luck!

Content marketer, author, and homeschool graduate. Co-founder of Transcript Maker, the high school transcript app.

2 thoughts on “How to write awesome course descriptions

    • Hi Christina! Transcript Maker doesn’t offer direct support for course descriptions. However, we plan on adding support very soon. Until then, for those who want course descriptions on their transcript, they can be added in the “Notes” section. Let me know if you need help figuring out how to do that.

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