Universities in the USA want to know about you and your school. They assess your admissibility holistically and in the context of your peers, your circumstances and the opportunities available to you.
One of the ways universities make these judgements is through the documents submitted by your school on your behalf. The usual required school documents are:
- Two to three reference letters
- School profile
Letters of recommendation should be written by at least one current teacher of an academically rigorous subject and one senior school administrator (headteacher, head of sixth form, higher education adviser, etc). If you have left school and cannot contact potential referees, seek the university's advice on appropriate alternatives.
If possible, referees should know you well and be familiar with your activities outside of the classroom. A third reference could be written by an adult from an extracurricular activity, your job, or a performing arts teacher to create a well-rounded group of references.
Reference letters should reinforce how you meet the university's admissions criteria and speak positively about your ability to succeed academically and contribute to the school community. You should meet with your referees and discuss which aspects of your application you'd like them to highlight. This might include:
- Anecdotes about you
- Academic potential
- Successes in and out of the classroom
- Involvement in school life
- Academic interests
- Career aspirations
- Suitability and reasons for studying in the USA
Above all, encourage your referees to avoid being too restrained and modest. American referees will be enthusiastic cheerleaders for their students.
If given the option, you should waive your right to see all recommendation letters to guarantee their authenticity.
It is your responsibility to notify your referees of submission requirements, formats and deadlines.
Transcripts are official high school documents in the USA. In the UK, transcripts are more commonly seen when you graduate university. They are documents produced by an institution as a record of your academic performance.
Your one-page school transcript should include:
- Official school letterhead, stamp and signature
- Years attended
- Achieved and predicted national grades from the last four years of secondary education
- (Years 10-13 in England and Wales, S3-6 in Scotland, Years 11-14 in Northern Ireland)
- Academic honours and awards
- Explanations and equivalencies of new or unfamiliar qualifications for university entry
- (EPQ, Pre-U, Welsh Baccalaureate, BTEC, etc)
- Information about how curriculum reforms relate to a student's subject choices
- (eg which A-levels are new standalone qualifications/which AS-levels still contribute to A2-level)
- Plans to resit any exams
- Extenuating circumstances
- How your choice and number of subjects compares to the average student
If you changed schools within the four years before graduating, you should ask your previous school to produce a similar document.
Like the reference letters, your transcript should be submitted directly by your school.
To place your school within the context of other UK institutions, universities require a school profile. This can be as little as a paragraph at the top or bottom of your transcript, or as much as a multi-page document.
In general, it can include:
- Type of school
- (in the USA, "public" means state funded, and academies are comparable to charter schools)
- Admissions process, if applicable
- School history and cultural/local information
- School ethos, mission statement or ideology
- Quotes from inspection reports or the press
- League table position
- (especially important if the school is ranked low but your grades are excellent)
- Student body
- (demographics, single sex or mixed, class size, etc)
- Percentage of university enrolment
- (broken down by Oxbridge, Russell Group, etc if possible)
- If your school ranks pupils by performance or not
- (this is common in the USA, so readers will expect your class rank if there is no explanation)
Any information your school can provide about its comparison to other schools in the UK will be useful to US admissions offices.
Make sure your school is aware of deadlines and submission requirements.