There is little dispute over the need for transcripts for homeschoolers. It is widely understood that most colleges require them, most athletic organizations require them, most scholarship committees require them, and so on.
But there is another document that is also important for high school record-keeping — a list of course descriptions. I always recommend creating a list of course descriptions for every high school student in the homeschool. I also recommend creating this document early on (in 8th or 9th grade) and adding to it every year. This way, nothing is ever forgotten, plus the list is easily finished by the time the student completes high school.
The purpose of having a list of course descriptions is to explain, in some level of detail, each course the student took from grades 9-12. The list should correspond exactly to the transcript, so that if the two documents were placed side-by-side, one could locate a course on the transcript and find the full course description on the corresponding list.
This may seem excessive to those who have never done this before. Some may find it too “school-y” or an act of conformance they’d rather not participate in. I am often asked, “Isn’t a transcript enough?” adding, “I always thought we didn’t have to keep the same records as the schools do.”
The truth is, in many cases, a transcript really is enough. But think of it this way — homeschool experiences vary quite a bit. Due to this lack of standardization (by itself, a good thing), homeschool transcripts are all very different, too, and some transcripts are just easier for people to figure out than others. Having a list of course descriptions acts as insurance — so there is never any misunderstanding about what a student actually accomplished.
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Besides, isn’t it better to do it, than be caught without it? (Imagine if a college admissions officer or potential employer were unable to discern the content of a class simply from its title on the transcript? This could mean the difference between acceptance, a job, or not…)
When preparing a list of course descriptions, include things like:
- Course title
- Course number (if taken at a community college or somewhere else)
- Number of credits
- Textbooks or other materials studied (include ISBN numbers if desired)
- General description of the course
- Name of professor or teacher
- Duration of the class (particularly if several combined together to form a course or credit)
You’ll find an example at the top of this page, one that looks rather similar to traditional course descriptions at a school. While this is a traditional format, homeschoolers may choose any format they are comfortable with, plus include any details they feel are worth writing about. Overall, the goal is that anyone reading the document should be able to glean an accurate picture of what took place in each course each year.
Take a look at this course description for a 1/2 credit on the transcript entitled Driver’s Ed:
Student combined online study guides with DMV-provided materials to study for online driver preparatory courses. Passed Drug & Alcohol exam and Road & Rules test; certificates issued via 1-2-3 Driving online driving school. Obtained Texas Learner’s Permit in one attempt. Student also received driving instruction from parents and began basic road training.
As you can see, descriptions should reflect whatever took place, and may be written in any clear language that is likely to be understood by those reading it.
Some additional tips about course descriptions are in order:
1. When the same course (I mean, exactly the same) was completed more than once, only a single course description on the list is necessary. Sometimes, families treat physical education this way, because the same kinds of activities are completed for P.E. each year. On the other hand, if a course changes at all (even just a little bit) from semester to semester, it is important to note the differences using two different course descriptions. An example of this scenario is illustrated by courses like: English I, English II, English III and English IV — clearly four different courses, taught at different levels, requiring four different course descriptions.
2. When multiple classes, experiences, subjects and resources are bundled together to form a single course on the transcript (see CREATIVE COMPOSITE) this information should be included in a single course description for which credit was awarded. This is akin to the “unit study” concept, where multiple activities are combined in the study of one specific thing, thus all of the separate activities used to award credit should be described in the course description.
3. When searching for great course titles or confused over how to word the language in a course description, it can be very helpful to consult the web site or handbook of a local high school or community college. Great ideas can sometimes come from looking through similar classes and experiences at other schools, and can provide inspiration for what to say for homeschool classes, too. Talking to other homeschool families is also a great idea, since just hearing what other families wrote can provide insight as to how to create a list of your own.
A list of course descriptions comes in handy in so many different circumstances, once families create one, they may wonder how they did without it before! All kinds of homeschoolers will benefit from this additional documentation, whether college-bound or not. Don’t forget to include a copy in the student’s comprehensive record, too!