The ultimate guide to creating an unschooling high school transcript

When we pulled our daughter, Sarah, out of public school in the middle of sixth grade, and moved toward an unschooling lifestyle, we had relatively few critiques of our learning from life approach. In fact, most people – homeschoolers and not – thought it was pretty awesome.

As Sarah got a little older, however, I started getting some questions. “Oh, that seems fun for now,” a homeschooling acquaintance said, “but you’ll have to do normal stuff for high school, right? Not just play?”

Ah, so many things to unpack there, but at the root of it is a misconception I hear a lot: Unschooling is a great way for young children to learn, but teens can’t succeed in life without a more traditional education.

Even many longtime unschooling families I know think they have to “play the game” and push their high-schoolers through more traditional coursework in math and foreign language, even if they feel a more relaxed approach is the best educational path in a broader sense.

That’s why I’ve taken the time to create this Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript. I want to encourage unschoolers and relaxed homeschoolers that they can make high school work in a less formal style – and still create a top-notch transcript that helps their children stand out!

Unschool Rules: The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript

Here’s who this guide is for:

  • Unschooling parents who don’t use any formal curriculum and wonder how to make “learning from life” work at the high school level.
  • Parents of homeschoolers with special passions, such artists, mechanics or entrepreneurs, who want to translate the work their teens spend the most time doing into high school credits.
  • Parents of homeschoolers who want to go to college, and who need to show certain prerequisites.
  • Parents of homeschoolers who want to enter the workforce after high school, who are looking for ways to create or enhance an introductory resume.

That covers a lot of ground, right? Mostly, I encourage you to read through and see how much learning to speak transcript-ese can help you show what your unschooler or relaxed homeschooler knows.

Unschooling high school transcripts 101: Know your requirements

Let’s get the basics out of the way: Before you begin creating an unschooling high school transcript, you need to gather some information.

  • What are the graduation requirements and other state laws where you live?
  • What are your teen’s post-graduation goals?

Sorting out these facts will help you know what you and your teen might need to reflect in a transcript. Whether you haven’t yet started the high-school years and want to plan ahead or you’re coming back to a transcript after some or all of your child’s later compulsory school years are completed, this is what sets the target you’re aiming for.

State laws: Where I live in Pennsylvania, to be considered a high school graduate, you must complete your requirements for evaluation of a portfolio of work each year, and your student must have completed a requisite number of credits in English, mathematics, science, social studies and arts and humanities. If these requirements are met, your child earns a standard high school diploma.

In Pennsylvania, there is no requirement to keep a transcript; however, we submit one to our evaluator each year with our portfolio so we can easily keep track of Sarah’s progress toward the credit requirements. It also helps me to “categorize” the work she does – based on what the state’s requirements are, for instance, I might list a philosophy course under social studies or under arts and humanities, wherever I need to fill in a credit.

We’ll talk about this in detail later, but the important point remains: Know your state’s requirements for graduation, and if a transcript specifically is required!

(And, if you’re interested in Pennsylvania requirements specifically, please check out our Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling and Unschooling in Pennsylvania for way more information.)

Your child’s goals: This is the other key area you have to know before you start work on your transcript. You’ll waste a lot of time and energy if you’re creating a college-admissions-type transcript and your teen wants to start a business or get a job – and vice versa!

Even if you’re starting this process early, begin talking about goals. Knowing if your teen is headed more toward veterinary school or a vet tech program or community college or a state engineering university will be a key to creating the right kind of transcript. And nothing says you and your teen can’t change course later on! If you’re already at the decision stage (such as a college application process), you can get even more specific here.

One thing I strongly recommend is, if your teens might be college-bound, talk personally with admissions counselors at a few schools of interest. Do not just rely on what’s stated on their websites. Most schools have separate guidelines for homeschoolers, and many actually prefer the kinds of coursework that homeschoolers have that traditional public-school students might not – so you’ll actually do your teens a disservice if you try to make it look as if they’re exactly like their public-school peers!

Our success story: Sarah is not, at this time, interested in pursuing a traditional four-year college degree after she’s done her high school years. She does, however, want to take some college classes now and in the future.

She used her transcript – created ENTIRELY from unschooling experiences – to apply for and gain acceptance to a dual-enrollment program at our local community college. It does work, everybody! We’re living proof!

Unschooling high school transcripts: What to include

So what information needs to be part of your transcript? And, maybe just as important, what doesn’t need to be included?

Unschool Rules example of an unschooling high school transcript header

Here’s a sample transcript header from our actual transcript. The top of each page should contain this information.

Include at the top of each page:

  • Your student’s name, address, phone number and email address
  • Your homeschool’s name, address, phone number and email address
  • Full names of the parent or parents of the student

You can see how we’ve addressed these items in the sample header pictured above!

Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (freshman)

Here’s an example of how one academic year looks on an unschooling high school transcript. This is from our daughter’s first year of high school-age reporting.

Include for each course:

  • The course name
  • A short (approx. 15 words or fewer) description (technically optional)
  • The academic year in which credit was earned
  • The number of credits earned

You can see how a full year of this looked for us in the image above. One note: You are really not required to offer course descriptions, but some places ask for them and we’ve found that including something short on the transcript itself usually prevents requests for a more detailed summary later, so we have seen it in our best interest to include them!

Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript footer sample with total credits and supplemental experiences

This is an example from our daughter’s transcript of the footer at the end of the last page. We use a “supplemental secondary academic record” to show secondary-level work completed before the traditional high school reporting period. We also provide a total by academic area of credits earned, since Pennsylvania graduation requirements are based on those areas, as well as a signature statement from the homeschool supervisor.

Optional, but suggested, at the bottom of the last page:

  • Supplemental relevant academic experiences from seventh and eighth grades, with years participated
  • Total credits earned per subject area
  • Homeschool supervisor’s signature staement
  • Evaluator’s signature statement, if applicable

We use the “supplemental academic experience” format to cover work done at the secondary level that might be relevant, but which was done before the traditional four-year high school reporting period. This is similar to how a public-school student who takes a high school algebra course in eighth grade would see that work reflected on a transcript.

You’ll also see we show total credits earned by academic area; that is by no means required, but since Pennsylvania graduation requirements are for a fixed number of credits in each of those areas, we find it easier to include for record-keeping.

Finally, you’ll see we have a signature statement verifying the accuracy of the experience. Since we work with an evaluator in Pennsylvania, not only will I sign that, but I will likely also add a space for our evaluator’s signature as an additional verification.

Things we don’t recommend:

  • Letter or number grades for each course
  • Standardized test scores

What, transcripts don’t have to have grades assigned? That’s right! Please do not “fake” grades for you child if you do not assign them. If you do assign As or Bs or 85%s or whatever, that’s fine, as long as you know it’s not a requisite to include that information.

If you don’t already create grades, your homeschool uses what is known in transcript-ese as the mastery approach. That’s somewhat like grading on a pass/fail scale, but really is more like saying, “We work on a subject until my child understands it at the appropriate level, so the very fact that it’s on the transcript means the grade would, in essence, be 100%.”

When you talk to college admissions counselors and employers who are curious about a grade-point average, you can simply say “Our homeschool uses the mastery approach, so we do not consider a course complete until the material is mastered at the appropriate level.” That works very well. (And if they need a number grade, which few will, you can in good conscience tell them 100%. I have done this and no one cared; they literally just had to type in a number into an automated form and needed some digit-based answer.)

Similarly, standardized test scores, whether SATs/ACTs or state exams or another test, if your student has taken them, do not need to be part of the transcript. Any place that requires this information will receive it separately, and there’s no reason to provide it on a document summarizing educational experiences.

Unschooling high school transcripts: Speak the language

All right, you’ve had a brief introduction to some “transcript-ese,” right? Now we really get into speaking the language.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it's because we really do believe in the book or item!
First of all, let’s talk about what makes a credit.

We, and more importantly many other organizations, use the Carnegie Unit guidelines for a credit, which equates to 120 hours of study on a topic.

That means that if Sarah pursues any topic for 120 hours, she earns one credit. If she completes 60 hours of effort, that’s a half-credit. A quarter-credit is 30 hours. (I don’t bother with those, but you certainly can if you like.)

That’s it. Credits do not need to include textbooks, final projects, reports or any of the other stuff you might see in a more traditional learning environment. A 60-hour commitment to music lessons is a half-credit whether or not you have a recital.

If you do follow a more traditional educational path, there are other criteria you can use for a credit, including:

  • Completion of three-quarters of a textbook
  • Completion of a 10-page research paper, using at least three sources
  • Presentation of a 30-minute speech or demonstration outside the immediate family
  • Completion of a college course on the subject
  • Passing an Advanced Placement exam on the subject

You can also do combinations – such as a five-page paper and 60 hours of study for a full credit – but that’s way more complicated than I want to get into. There are also people who will tell you that you can assign an “honors credit” for, say, 180 hours of effort, but unless you’re also doing a weighted GPA, that’s a lot of extra work for something that is still 1 credit on the transcript (albeit with that “honors” designation).

Again, talk to the people likely to receive your student’s transcript. Most will tell you that Advanced Placement and, if required, SAT/ACT scores are the factors that affect your child’s placement into college classes, not the designation of honors (or not).

So what’s an “elective,” anyway? Argh, I hate that word. Some people like to divide transcripts into core courses and electives. Math is important, philosophy is an elective. (Or art, or music, or really 90% of the humanities.)

My recommendation is to create a transcript that includes the work your child spends time on. Period. If you have state requirements to meet regarding math, science, etc., meet them. But if your teen has other passions, don’t sell those short on a transcript by dropping them into an “elective” category. These “electives” are often the differentiators that colleges and employers are looking for. Play them up! Make them a key part of the transcript content.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

How do I learn to speak transcript-ese? So maybe you’re a relaxed homeschooler or an unschooler, and things seem great until it comes time to write some documentation. Suddenly, running through your head is “All he’s done for months is work on Minecraft mods!” “All she does is watch TV!”

Relax. First of all, it’s easy to get in “school mode” and forget all the times you’ve had amazing conversations about how the stock market works and what really caused World War II and how recessive genetic traits are passed down. And second, when you really stop to think about what you’ve accomplished throughout the year, there are probably a lot of neat themes – that, with a little thought, you can fit into titles that sound appropriately like “courses of study!”

And that’s what the rest of this post is about – a very specific guide to the things we do, and how that looks in transcript-ese, from a “subject-based” perspective. (Which is also funny, because we don’t live our lives in terms of subjects, but again, we arrange things according to what our state graduation requirements look for!)

So read on, and you’ll see how transcript-ese looks in action! Every credit my daughter has earned in three years of unschooling high school is broken down here!

Unschooling high school transcripts for English and language arts

Going to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway was a highlight for both our comparative literature AND musical theater credits.

Comparative Literature – 1 credit
Course description: Evaluation of literary works and their film and stage adaptations

  • We watched a lot of movies based on books – probably 120 hours’ worth in movies alone!
  • Sometimes before and sometimes after, we read or listened to audiobooks or looked up summaries online of the books they were based on.
  • We talked about how the books and movies were similar and different, and which Sarah liked better.
  • We also talked about the process of making screen adaptations, in the context of the Oscars (i.e. what’s an “adapted screenplay,” etc.)
  • We also attended some plays based on literature, including an amazing local high school production of some Edgar Allan Poe stories.

Creative Writing – 1 credit
Course description: Methods and practice of creative writing techniques in a variety of genres

  • Sarah spent a ton of time working on a story, in epistolary format, about the zombie apocalypse. (Don’t know that epistolary format is? We didn’t either until she wanted to know what the kind of writing she was doing was called. Bonus couple of hours toward her credit digging that up and talking about famous books written that way!)
  • Sarah read a lot of awesome fiction in the genre she was trying to write in. Yes, reading is part of writing!
  • She talked with our friendly local bookstore owner and several family friends who are published authors about her project and got some advice.

Classical Literature – 1 credit
Course description: Study of works by Dante, Poe, Stevenson and Shakespeare, among others

  • Sarah loves Shakespeare and Poe, so we watched movies and plays featuring their works, as well as some Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells adaptations.
  • This got her interested in the books behind the performances, so we picked up copies of those and she read some or all of them, or we read them together.
  • Somehow, she got totally into Dante’s Inferno and started reading that on her own. That sucker is denser than I remember from reading it in college! We dug into it together, including some pretty heavy online research.

Transcript-ese hints for English and language arts

  • Anything to do with reading or books, call it literature.
  • Remember that audio books, movies and plays can very much be a part of “language arts.” They involve a ton of expressive language and work great for visual and auditory learners.
  • Think in themes. Here in PA, this is easier because we need to keep what’s called a book log. So over the course of the year, we have a pretty simple way to go back and look for what things have in common (like we did with Classical Literature). If you don’t have to do such a log, your library card records are often a good place to start!

Unschooling high school transcripts for math

DragonBox Algebra 12+ algebra app

Using the DragonBox Algebra 12+ app was one way Sarah dug into the concepts behind algebra!

Concepts of Algebra – 0.5 credits
Course description: Foundational study in equation-based thinking, conceptual math, problem-solving

Concepts of Geometry – 0.5 credits
Course description: Strategies for budgeting, personal account management, use of credit and more

  • We talk about math all the time, which is funny because Sarah will tell you that she doesn’t like math and isn’t good at it. That’s where the “Concepts of” course titles come in. We spend very little time working out problems, and a lot of time discussing the concepts behind them and their applications.
  • We do this so often I actually wrote a whole separate post about it, called Real-world high school math: Learning algebra and geometry from life. I definitely recommend you check that out, as it lists a lot of the great resources we’ve used – such as Dragonbox apps and Life of Fred books – as well as some of the many conversational topics that fall into algebraic or geometric concepts. (And while Life of Fred is described as a Christian series, we are a secular homeschooling family and haven’t had any problems using the fairly few spiritual references we’ve found as talking points about what different people believe, which we like to do anyway.

Personal Finance 1 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Strategies for budgeting, personal account management, use of credit and more

Personal Finance 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued work in budgeting, personal account management, credit and debt, etc.

  • Sarah has long been responsible for managing her personal savings, earning money to buy things she wants and then spending, saving and giving responsibly. Why on earth would she not get credit for the hard work she puts into this?
  • As it happens, I spent many years as a personal finance writer, so Sarah probably has heard way more than she wants to about that topic, including a ton about how credit works and the ins and outs of debt.
  • We’re also big fans of talking about our own finances with Sarah, so she’s been part and parcel to a lot of financial happenings, such as job changes, a divorce, leasing and buying a car, etc.

Economics – 1 credit
Course description: Exploration of mortgages, credit scores, stock market, national/international finance

  • The election was a HUGE part of our conversation, and specifically the stock market. We spent close to an hour a day for quite a while on current events discussions and email exchanges with Sarah from about October onward.
  • As it turns out, we wrapped up Sarah’s school year by selling our home and buying a new one. Nothing like a crash course in mortgages and real estate to contribute to an economics credit!
  • I also wrapped up my car lease and bought it out during Sarah’s junior year, and as part of that, I was proud to find out my credit score was over 800 for the first time. Sarah was understandably perplexed at a score that did not involve video games, so we dove into credit scores to find out more!

Transcript-ese hints for math

  • That “concepts of” phrase is your friend. Use that in all subjects, not just math, when you want to describe a broad survey of a subject area.
  • Don’t underestimate the things you do in your everyday life. This is so true even if you’re a more traditional homeschooler. Someone recently asked in a Facebook group I’m part of whether her son’s regular work of several hours a week on the church’s sound board could qualify as any kind of high school credit. Um, yes! (I suggested “Audio Production.”) Just because something is a routine part of your life, like personal finance, doesn’t mean it doesn’t “count” educationally.
  • Look for subjects hidden within other subjects. For instance, our economics credit for this past year could probably have been wrapped up into a current events credit, or into more “bulk” for the political science credit she also earned. But boom – pull out a piece of the topic, figure out the hours of time spent on it, and suddenly you have a credit in a subject area you had fewer “extras” in.
Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (sophomore)

Here’s an example of how Sarah’s sophomore year looked on an unschooling high school transcript.

Unschooling high school transcripts for science

Sarah’s demonstrating how to determine blood type using a clotting agent, a skill she learned at forensics camp.

Forensic Science – 1 credit
Course description: Study of forensic science history, practices and applications

  • So this was one of the easiest credits to figure out, because Sarah actually took two formal classes in forensics, one as a summer program and one at our local college, which added up to almost 60 hours of her 120 for the credit.
  • Bless the people in the college program, as they suggested a ton of movies about forensics and provided some discussion ideas for them. We watched a bunch and read some more in the books they had excerpted as well.
  • We looked for places where forensics was used in the news, whether for crime investigations or, in one case, to analyze some skeletal remains found about a mile from our house. (Spoiler art: Not human, somewhat to Sarah’s dismay.)
  • We took field trips to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment and the National Spy Museum, which had a bunch of great forensic-related exhibits.

Animal/Environmental Studies 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Study of wildlife, zoology, ecology and conservation issues in PA and worldwide

Animal/Environmental Studies 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Continued detailed study of wildlife, zoology, ecology and conservation issues

Animal/Environmental Studies 3 – 1 credit
Course description: Advanced study of wildlife, zoology and conservation issues, including genetics

  • 4-H. Seriously. Sarah actually probably could earn two credits every year for the time she spends in meetings, on trips, working on projects, doing farm work… but one per year seemed sufficient. She’s a member of the Clover Canines dog-raising club, the Wildlife Watchers club and the Alpaca club, and between them she has done some amazing things.
  • Some of our favorite field trips: A ton of alpaca shows around the state and region; the Wolf Sanctuary of PA; the Lehigh Valley Zoo; Reptiland; Lake Tobias; OdySea Aquarium in Phoenix, AZ; more butterfly experiences in multiple states than most people can imagine; local pet stores; hikes at our county parks… the list goes on for quite a while.
  • Sarah’s biggest exploration in the area of animal science this year was alpaca genetics – which led to a lot of human biology discussion as well. She’s spent hours digging up the colors of the alpacas at the farm we work on, and their parents’ colors, and exploring the ins and outs of heredity, which are apparently much more complex in camelids than they are in humans.

Early summer is alpaca baby season! This is Sarah with Mac (Macintosh), one of the summer 2016 crias.

Epidemiology and Public Health – 0.5 credits
Course description: Basic concepts of disease and health, including current events and issues in health

  • You’ll like this one: I started a master’s degree in a public health field, and Sarah was always asking me what I was studying or reading about or writing about. Guess what that turned into?
  • Besides the things we talked about specifically based on my studies, and the lecture videos of mine she watched, we also watched a bunch of movies about health issues – think Outbreak, etc.
  • The Plague app, in which you try to infect the world with a virtual disease, was great for talking about how different types of diseases spread, how they can be treated, etc.
  • We rounded out the hours for this half-credit by talking about health issues in the news, most notably the Ebola crisis.

Astronomy – 0.5 credits
Course description: Study of various topics in aerospace science, including current issues

  • Astronomy was actually one of Sarah’s first topics of interest when we began our homeschooling journey. Just this year, we really revisited it with the purchase of a museum membership at the North Museum in Lancaster, PA, which has a SciDome that does planetarium shows.
  • In addition to the museum, we worked current events into this credit. Pluto isn’t a planet any more; some people get really crazy about eclipses; are we really going to send people to Mars… that sort of thing.
  • Movies were a big part of this too. If you haven’t yet watched Arrival or The Martian, I strongly recommend them, as well as the more obvious choices, like Apollo 13. Bonus: The Martian can double as “Comparative Literature” with the accompanying book.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

Transcript-ese hints for science

  • Don’t forget to think about your field trips! When we talked about literature, I mentioned plays we went to see; here, I shared all the trips we took to obvious places, like zoos and aquariums and science museums, as well as some that you might not have automatically grouped into science, like the Spy Museum.
  • Current events, current events, current events. If your family isn’t in the habit of talking about these, first of all, I recommend that you start. If you are, think back over the news items from the past year and you’ll probably find some themes that can advise your transcript-ese.
  • Keep an eye on your movies. There, again, is a place you can often see themes that you can then reflect more on for a potential credit.

Unschooling high school transcripts for history and social studies

World War II History 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of World War II – causes, effects, key figures, Jewish resistance, more

World War II History 2 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of in-depth World War II issues, including the person of Hitler

  • Sarah originally became fascinated by World War II thanks to James Bond. Actually, it was thanks to her favorite Bond, Daniel Craig, and a movie called Defiance that he starred in, detailing the real-life story of the Bielski brothers, who led a Jewish forest resistance during the war.
  • Watching the movie led to reading the Bielski Brothers book, which led to more movies and more books.
  • We took an amazing field trip to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which not only added time to these credits from when we visited, but from the conversations we had on the drive home across several states about what we saw.
  • Later in her World War II explorations, Sarah became really absorbed with Hitler. “Why did he do what he did?
    Was he mentally ill?” These were the sorts of things she was asking all the time. She ended up helping me write a long blog post, What homeschoolers should know about Adolf Hitler, and even has read parts of Mein Kampf, which led to her wanting to understand some basic German (which you’ll see later!)

British History and Culture – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study on the history and culture of Great Britain, Medieval times to present

  • This was a great example of living our lives and letting the theme find us later. Sarah’s Brit passion started with the Beatles – and specifically, playing through all of The Beatles: Rock Band.
  • From there, she and I did a Coursera course together on the Beatles’ music, which somehow led us into some conversations about the Queen and the British line of succession to the throne, which led us into a pretty in-depth exploration, over time, of various British rules across history.
  • Then there’s James Bond. Via Sarah’s Bond fascination, we learned all about modern-day England, especially the real MI6 intelligence agency.
  • Jumping way back in time, Sarah’s Shakespeare interest led to a lot of learning about Elizabethan England, and we followed that up with some Renaissance explorations that started with our local Ren Faire and continued afterward.

World Cultures and Geography – 1 credit
Course description: Study of the culture and geography of selected nations around the world

For the 2016 4-H fair, the Alpaca Club made posters, and Sarah chose as her topic “Alpaca Geography,” exploring the countries where alpacas are native.

Advanced Cultural Geography – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of culture, geography, history, customs and foods of many nations

  • Sarah absolutely loves all things to do with maps. One of her very first homeschooling experiences was working on a blog post with her dad about an old geography textbook and she’s never lost interest. As a teen, her way of pursuing geography and culture is generally to get very interested in a particular place and then explore all she can about it.
  • One of the best ways of finding new places that are cool? Celebrities. See the earlier description of England via James Bond, but we also dug into Austria thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Argentina due to Lionel Messi and Portugal from Cristiano Ronaldo.
  • Then there’s Postcrossing, about which I cannot say enough good things. This project, which Chris spearheads, led to Sarah developing an ongoing, long-term pen-friendship with a girl in Taiwan named Christina, with whom she regularly exchanges cards, letters and gifts.
  • New this year, we subscribed to Universal Yums, which lets us sample snacks from a different country each month as well as telling us some cool trivia that almost always encourages further research.
  • One kind of traditional “schoolish” thing Sarah has wanted to do with her countries is create fact notebooks,
    for which we’ve used some great printables from NotebookingPages. Detailing the languages, currencies, weather, landmarks and that sort of thing really appeals to Sarah and she’s amassed quite a collection.
Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript example photo

Taking part in Pennsylvania’s 4H State Capital Days has allowed Sarah to meet a bunch of our lawmakers, including the state Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding.

Government/Political Science 1 – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study of the American state and federal governmental system and election

Government/Political Science 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued study of the presidential election and the American government

  • “The election” is the short answer to what we did here, over the course of two academic years. Talking about it, watching the debates, reading news stories online, sending emails to each other with the latest updates, and eventually, for everyone but Sarah (MUCH to her dismay), going to vote. Though this was officially the last election she was too young to vote in, she did have her pick for a candidate, chosen after much review of the issues that mattered most to her.
  • We also explored a lot about state government through Sarah’s participation in a 4-H program called “Capital Days,” in which they visit our state capital, Harrisburg, for several days and do a mock legislative session, culminating in a brunch where the 4-H teens sit with their lawmakers and discuss issues relevant to them.

Transcript-ese hints for history and social studies

  • I said it in science, I’ll say it again: Current events. They can be your friend, and they can help you find some pretty obvious themes for your credits.
  • On the other hand, be on the lookout for non-obvious themes. I did not immediately put together the Beatles and Shakespeare and think “British history and culture,” but once I started to jot down all the things we’d spent a lot of time on, the pattern popped out.
  • Don’t be afraid of learning that spans multiple years. The “1, 2, 3, 4” system you’re seeing throughout this post is how we reflect that. You could also ditch years altogether on your transcript and just show a series of credits by subject, which is also a fully acceptable method. In either case, please don’t shy away from assigning a credit because you’ve already covered that topic. This is not how the public school system works, and you don’t need to either.
Unschool Rules unschooling high school transcript one-year record sample (junior)

Here’s an example of how Sarah’s junior year looked on an unschooling high school transcript.

Unschooling high school transcripts for arts and humanities

Sarah won first place for art by 14- to 18-year-olds at the 2014 Yorkfest, our annual regional art show. That’s her painting at left! (She also went on to win in 2015 and 2016 as well.)

Art Portfolio Development 1 and 2 – 1 credit and 0.5 credits, respectively
Course description: Focused work on portfolio creation and gallery show participation for abstract art

Art Portfolio Development 3 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Focused work on portfolio creation and sales opportunities for abstract art

  • Creating art is a HUGE part of our family’s life, and Sarah is a key part of that. She’s got her own portfolio, has taken part in several gallery shows, including at least one adult juried show, and has won first place in our local art festival for her age group for the past several years. (Next year, she competes against me in the adult category, so I’m nervous!)
  • In addition to making and showing her work, Sarah’s been giving handmade gifts, and recently started to explore selling prints and originals, which is a pretty great first job for a high-schooler.
  • We also have made friends with the owner of our local art-supply store, and we regularly talk with her as well as a lot of other local professional artists about new techniques and ideas.

Music Theory and Appreciation – 1 credit
Course description: Detailed study on rhythm, melody, harmony, theory and instrumental performance

  • This is a new passion for Sarah that we’ve been loving this year. She’s taking one-on-one lessons in music theory, beginning performance and appreciation from an amazing dude named Rod, who owns Music at Metropolis.
  • In addition to her lessons with Rod, she practices performance at home, and listens to a TON of music and makes notes and observations for class as well as just for fun.

Introductory German – 0.5 credits
Course description: Beginning study of German language and culture

  • I mentioned before that this came out of our World War II study. We started by watching a bunch of German YouTube videos and doing some online research.
  • Later, Sarah started using DuoLingo to practice and eventually got to more than 50% fluency in basic German!
  • We also explored the food, culture and cultural geography of Germany.

Philosophy: Existence – 1 credit
Course description: Reading and research in historical and current ideas of existential philosophy

Philosophy: Time Travel – 0.5 credits
Course description: Reading and research in the philosophies of time, time travel and metaphysics

Philosophy: Early Philosophers – 1 credit
Course description: Study of ancient philosophers including Plato and Aristotle and their theories

  • This started when Sarah was super-into The Matrix movie series. She read all of The Matrix and Philosophy and most of its sequel, and, from there, got interested in Plato, Kant and Sartre.
  • We took a Coursera course together on ancient philosophers, which was really great.
  • We used Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant as a springboard to talking about time-travel discussions, which included the use of movies like Back to the Future, which is “past-is-changeable” time travel theory, and others, like the “Back There” episode of the Twilight Zone series, which use the “past-as-library” theory. (This spawned so many conversations!)
  • Altogether, our hours for these three credits probably came about 60% from reading, about 20% from online courses and movie-watching, and about 20% from our discussions.

Much of the Panic at the Ballpark cast from October 2016, including Sarah as CJ Logan, undead shortstop. The dude with the baseball coming out of his head is the center of the story, and the twins you see at right are friends of Sarah’s who served as “tour guides” for the attraction.

Musical Theater 1 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Study of musical theater, its history and performance

Musical Theater 2 – 0.5 credits
Course description: Continued study of musical theater, its history and performance

Theater Performance – 0.5 credits
Course description: Participation in scripted and improvisational theater

  • Attending local and national musical theater performances, and watching them on video, made up the early part of these credits (along with, of course, talking about what we saw and how it worked.)
  • Starting last year, Sarah began to get involved with two local arts organizations, Weary Arts Group and DreamWrights. She’s taken a stage-combat class, participated in a monthlong Halloween attraction at our local baseball stadium, and, most recently, served on the set and props crew for the premiere of an original play called Peter Pan and Mary. For that last one, she’s been spending about four hours a night, four to five nights a week, at the theater, which is adding up the credit hours fast!

Transcript-ese hints for arts and humanities

  • Please don’t sell the arts short. It might be more obvious as a credit if your teen is actively involved in performance of dance, music, visual art or drama. However, if you have a teen who likes to listen to music, or attend theater performances, this is a key learning experience too!
  • Don’t be afraid of half-credit or even quarter-credit courses. These show your teen has had an introduction to various cultural subjects.
  • The “Appreciation” designation is great for course titles. Music appreciation is listening to and trying to better understand music. Art appreciation is looking at and trying to better understand art. I would imagine many families could show “credit” in these areas!

Unschooling high school transcripts for health and physical education

Personal Health and Fitness 1, 2 and 3 – 0.5 credits, 1 credit and 1 credit, respectively
Course description: Self-care, safety (including fire safety), and personal physical fitness

  • Really, you don’t even need this on most transcripts. However, Pennsylvania law requires that you show continuing education about fire safety, and Sarah has spent an increasing amount of time on physical activity, so I figure why not give her credit for it?
  • Health includes all the great conversations you need to have with teens about their bodies, reproduction, hygiene, and all that good stuff. I’m sure I don’t need to spell this out. You had health class, right?
  • Personal fitness includes a TON of stuff that, on the other hand, I’m glad to spell out. We do a bunch of hiking and bicycling as a family. Sarah gets a lot of exercise working alpacas that outweigh her. She developed her own fitness routine based on her hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We joined a gym. We play basketball and soccer and baseball together. We go bowling and mini-golfing and to the trampoline park. All of that counts!

Transcript-ese hints for health and physical education

  • Not much to add here, but to be explicitly clear about what I said above: Caring for yourself, if done intentionally, can absolutely count for “credit,” at least on par with the college credit in bowling that I so proudly earned back in the day by showing up once a week and occasionally not using the bumpers.
  • Don’t forget to count organized sports watching as well as participating. No, you can’t get credit for attending every Phillies game of the season, but you can legitimately supplement your credit hours with a reasonable amount of time spent watching and learning the rules of the game as well as playing it.

Final notes

Practical arts
I haven’t reflected anything in this category on Sarah’s transcript yet, but expect to in the coming year. “Practical arts” includes things like woodworking, car maintenance and repair, sewing, cooking, general home economics and much more.

I actually wish I had done more to document and reflect these areas earlier in Sarah’s high school years. These are absolutely a valid credits.

Get sample copies of some of our family’s documentation

· Fully editable transcript template
· Full copy of our current transcript
· Samples of detailed documentation on what we did each year that comprised the credits shown
· List of 100+ course titles from local high schools in my area that fit “outside the box” topics

All are free for Unschool RULES email subscribers. Get your copies here.

Work experience

Time spent working DOES qualify for transcript credit. In fact, many public high schools offer courses with titles such as “Diversified Occupations” or “Career Development” which incorporate both classroom instruction in resume-writing, etc., as well as time spent getting and working at a job.

Your relaxed homeschooler or unschooler absolutely can count the same types of activities. If your teen crafts a resume, goes on a job search and lands a position, their work in doing so is very much a learning experience, and you should reflect it as such!

Driver education

While Sarah hasn’t yet started driving, many unschooled teens will count studying for a permit test, doing road practice and getting a driver’s license among their high school experiences. Your time toward this counts as a credit as well!

Dual enrollment

If your student plans to dual-enroll in any college courses (usually done during junior and senior years), you can definitely include those on the transcript as well, and that’s super-easy – take the name and short description from the college, add the grade if you wish, and call it good!

Sarah is considering doing this for her senior year, and if she does, you can expect you’ll see those on her final transcript!

Final transcript-ese reminders

Creating an unschooling high school transcript isn’t easy, but it’s pretty simple if you do the following:

  • Know your requirements.
  • Look back over your year and pick out the ways your family spent most of your time.
  • Look for themes in those areas. If it’s movies, did you watch a bunch of a certain genre or topic? If it’s traveling, did you go to a bunch of zoos or a bunch of history museums? If it’s listening to audiobooks or podcasts, what were some of the best ones?
  • If you’re having trouble thinking in terms of “school-speak,” or transcript-ese, pick one key book or movie or trip location and try to imagine a class you might have taken in high school or college that would have used that as an enrichment activity to support more traditional textbook learning.
  • Find some good key words and phrases, such as “Concepts of” or “Introduction to” or “Appreciation” or “Advanced,” and see how to work them into the areas you want to describe.

And, as is always the case here at Unschool Rules, if you have any other questions, please comment below! While I no longer have the availability to provide full consulting services, I do try to answer all comments and will certainly be glad to help if I can, and can recommend some great consultants if you do need more detailed advice!

BONUS: Actual course title ideas from local high schools

In August 2017, my friend and fellow York, PA, unschooler Nikki Donahue spent a day combing the websites of high schools across Central Pennsylvania and compiling a list of their actual course titles for anything interesting that was worth half a credit or more.

Her list, which includes “Exploring the Kingdoms of Life,” “Physics of Sports,” “Landscaping Design and Construction,” “Film, Fiction and History,” “Intro to Peacebuilding,” “Dystopian Literature,” “Screenprinting,” “Criminal and Civil Law,” “Theatre and Justice” and about a hundred more ideas, is part of my download library for email newsletter subscribers, so make sure you’re subscribed here to see the full list!

Read more ultimate guides

The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Unschooling High School Transcript is part of the iHomeschool Network's Ultimate Guides series.This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Ultimate Guides series. Click the image here to see great tips from some of my fellow bloggers on a ton of cool topics!

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40 thoughts on “The ultimate guide to creating an unschooling high school transcript

  1. Thank you so very much! With one grad who needs a transcript and two who plan to graduate next year, I’ve been dreading this (and kicking myself for not keeping better ‘records’ of all the unschoolish stuff we’ve covered). Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Thanks so much Joan! There’s so many ways to think about what we learn just by living and doing, it’s easy to overlook it. Your posts are so valuable to help us realize how much life teaches us all! Thank you again for a great post!

  3. This is wonderful! My son is entering 8th grade now but we tend to lean more toward unschooling and I was wondering about how that would translate into a transcript. Pinned!

  4. Thank you so much for this! My daughter is graduating this year, and I’ve really been dragging my feet on creating transcripts because I don’t give grades, and I was a little unsure of how I was going to do this. At this point, she plans to attend community college before transferring to a four year school, so transcripts are something I definitely need to think about. We live in PA, too, so I’m especially glad you’re well-versed in what we need to do.

    • Shelly, that’s almost exactly what my daughter will likely do – and this transcript did work at HACC, our local community college! Good lluck to you and your daughter.

    • Shelly, that’s almost exactly what my daughter will likely do – and this transcript did work at HACC, our local community college! Good luck to you and your daughter.

  5. EXTREMELY helpful!! Thank You!! I’m pretty sure I can do this now after avoiding it for the past three years. Now to come up with course names…including one for our two week trip out west last summer. How about Road Trip survival 101? Ha!

      • Hi Beth and Joan. I know I’m a little late here, but a friend recommended this article for transcripts. Beth, I would think that your trips sure could be considered matter for geography and history – perhaps current events. I, too, want to thank you Joan for this article. The best line for me, even though we do a more traditional series of books and courses than unschooling, was your comment to not use letter and percent grades. Ding! That makes so much good sense! Especially if the schools or work places do not require these. Very helpful. Thank you for posting.

    • Absolutely! But it depends on what the Minecraft focuses were. There are things in it that could be math, video game design, programming, game theory, video production, digital design, and any number of things. The best way I know of to find a “course title” is a twofold approach – first, see where you need credits, then, make a list of the activities that could tie into that topic. Or, if you don’t have a particular area in which you need credits, just make a list of the specific activities – so not just “watching vlogs,” but is it watching vlogs to learn resource acquisition strategy, to see how vlogs are made, to learn design techniques, etc.? That is the part that will start to point you in the direction of your course title.

  6. I truly can’t say it enough for this awesome, helpful and enlightening post, thank you thank you thank you!!! This is exact what I needed for my 9th grade son.

  7. This was SO ENCOURAGING!! My kids are small, but we just made the switch to unschooling. I have been sad thinking about ending this wonderful journey once they hit HS so they can graduate. I am THRILLED that we can totally unschooling HS!

  8. I LOVE your blogs and have learned so much from you. Do you have any suggestions for how to word work experience on a transcript? My son works at Starbucks. In addition to the typical “barista duties, he orders supplies, trains new employees, and by the time he graduates in another year, will likely be making schedules. I’m sure there are good ways to give him credit for all the hours he’s working, but I’m drawing a blank. Thank you.

    • Hi Linda! I’m so glad you’ve found the blog helpful. You can absolutely come up with ways to give your son credit; it mostly depends on what “types” of credits you’re looking for. Some people simply give a “Work Experience” or “Occupational Training” credit for the hours, which equates to how credit is given in public schools for work-release time. But you could also break apart the time he spends and give full or partial credits for something like “Business Management” or “Career Development” or “Business Economics” for the time spent in those particular areas. Does that help at all?

      • Yes, thank you. I’m not looking for “work experience” so much as academic credit, so like the idea of “Business Management” or “Business Economics.” Thank you so much!

    • Hi Savannah, thanks for writing. There are definitely ways to make your best estimates. For instance, can you work with your teen and come up with a best guess about whether something was done for an hour a day on average for a month? It’s ideal if you keep some minor documentation as you go to help make this easier, but you can definitely estimate if needed. I just always encourage people to estimate low, not high, to ensure you’re being as fair as possible!

  9. Thanks. This is fantastic. It fits very well for much of our experience. However, I am stumped when it comes to the state requirements for chemistry, physics, algebra 1 and 2. My twice exceptional teen has no college plans due to learning disabilities. He is willing to struggle, but not on these topics that have no interest to him.

  10. I am glad I found your page. We are just starting unschooling. We have been using a box curriculum for a few years and it isn’t working. I asked someone about how english looks on a transcript for my collage bound child. Currently my child is doing 8th grade work. The english work is totally ridiculous. I am preparing for the high school years and beyond. My child desires to attend college and pursue a degree in the medical field. This person told me if I make a transcript or even have my child write papers about things they’ve learned for their portfolio then we really aren’t unschoolers. This person’s response confused me. Finding your page and seeing your transcript has helped me a lot. So with much gratitue, I thank you.

    • Angel, I’m so glad you found this and that it was helpful to you! It is useful for a number of styles – both people who are fully unschooling as well as relaxed homeschoolers and people who are trying to move toward that style. I hope you’ll stick around and read more about unschooling here as well as your family goes through the deschooling process!

  11. Hi ,I am so glad to have found your site. My son has already applied to colleges with his narrative transcript and been accepted to one so far. Our concern is that he wants to play baseball in college and the ncaa requires grades for his eligibility. Do you have any experience with this? Can we convert his narrative transcript to a graded transcript or would this jeopardize his acceptance?

    • Diane, I don’t have any direct experience with that. I always describe our learning as mastery-based; in talking with some admissions counselors who were curious about “grades,” I’ve explained that we continue with a subject until it is mastered, so at that point, Sarah’s grade would have been an A. That has worked fine for us, but I know the NCAA requirements are fairly specific. My understanding was that they not only required grades but certain specific courses. You might do best to see if the material at helps you (you may have already been through that!) and if you still have questions, contact someone through the organization. One thing I saw there that may be helpful is that it says “All core courses must show units of credit or semester or annual grades” (emphasis mine). It sounds like if you show credits, which is what we do for our mastery approach, that might work too?

      Anyway, I wish you and your son the best of luck as he continues this journey!

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