An alternative to the traditional transcript and an interview with Sophia D’Attillio, one of the first students ever to use the Mastery Transcript to apply to college. 

The traditional high school transcript was introduced almost a century ago and remains the most influential component of college admissions, but what if a transcript was more than just an assortment of letters, numbers and rankings? 

Traditional transcripts exist without any context and yet they play a pivotal role in the future of college bound students. The majority of transcripts look virtually identical, reducing students, unique human beings with diverse strengths, to letters and numbers and rankings. It’s the status quo, but what if there was an alternative? 

It turns out there is an alternative, The Mastery Transcript is a dramatic alternative to the status quo and presents a holistic, multimedia picture of a student. The Transcript looks like an online resume and shares the student’s story, strengths, passions and “artifacts,” like essays, recordings, or photos, showcasing the student’s best work. 

Working in Tosa 

One Wauwatosa resident was part of the first class of students ever to apply to colleges using the Mastery Transcript and was accepted early decision to New York University. 

Sophia D’Attilio attended Pathways High, a free public charter project-based learning school focused on interdisciplinary and real world hands-on learning, and the only high school in Milwaukee to use the Mastery Transcript and be a part of the Mastery Transcript Consortium. 

The Mastery Transcript Consortium is a group of schools whose leaders “are united in the belief that the system of averages for assessment and transcripts is inadequate at representing the breadth and depth of student skills and dispositions,” according to their websites. The schools are committed to working together to develop a new more useful and equitable system. 

Sophia was a part of the first group of students ever to apply to colleges using the Mastery Transcript, and The Washington Post Magazine highlighted her story in October 2021. Sophia told The Washington Post, “She had been anxious about using the gradeless mastery transcript but went ahead with it because […], ‘it actually shows you who I am as a person.’” 

The admissions counselor at NYU went on to agree, telling The Washington Post that although her transcript required more time to read, the absence of a grade-point average wasn’t a problem. 

Jonathan Williams, the university’s assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions said, “By offering detailed descriptions of what D’Attilio learned in high school and concrete examples of her work, the mastery transcript provided a deeper understanding of what kind of learner she was.”

graph of stats

On to NYU 

This past year was Sophia’s first year at New York University. In this interview, Sophia shares more about the Mastery Transcript, her nontraditional high school experiences, and how she’s doing at NYU: 

What did you first think of the Mastery Transcript and when were you exposed to it?

The seniors in my grade were the first to apply with it, but we had known about it for a little while. At first, I had a lot of feelings about it–I was against it. But later on I actually got really excited about it because I’m not a very good test taker and knowing the transcript would show more of who I am and what I believe in gave me a lot of confidence that I’d be getting into a school for the right reasons. 

What was it like writing and organizing the mastery transcript?

It was a lot, probably a good three months of really focused work on it. I remember starting working on it in our cohorts class, then later I started working one on one with one of my advisers.

There was a paragraph about me in my transcript and that was something we worked on a lot because my adviser wanted to make sure it had all the skills I wanted to highlight and reflected why I chose all the projects I put on my transcript. I included theater as a project, then a podcast I made in my Native Americans Stereotypes class, and an essay from one of my classes. 

The mastery transcript is only used locally at Pathways High, what attracted you to Pathways High, specifically?

I heard it would be more project based, and I was in the STEM program at Longfellow Middle School, so I’d had a few years’ experience where we didn’t take many exams. We did a little bit of project-based learning and a lot more learning through experience, so that was attractive to me. 

Looking back, what was one of your favorite parts of High School?

The community was one of my favorite parts. We were so close, literally like a family, even though that sounds cheesy. I just loved it. I loved how we all knew each other, and you don’t get so lost in the cliques as you do in the typical high school. And I loved the teachers.

I think the teachers [at Pathways] do a really good job of connecting personally with the students, and I also felt like they were listening and were actually passionate about the work I was doing, not just a “meet this deadline” typical authority-based relationship. 

Now that you’ve finished your first year, how do you like NYU?

It was really amazing. NYU was my reach school and my number one so I knew that I wanted to be here in the city. It was everything I wanted for sure. I got here and NYU is actually working towards a project-based structure. It’s been great!

Did Pathways help you prepare academically for NYU?

Yes, I think so. I have a lot of friends at NYU who went to traditional high schools, and then they got to NYU and were like “I don’t know how to do this, I just know how to study for hours and memorize”, so I think I definitely have an advantage there because I knew more about the project-based side. 

Lastly, do you think use of the mastery transcript should be expanded to all schools?

I think that’s an interesting question because everyone is different, so I don’t think in education there’s a one size fits all. Just like I don’t think the regular A’s and B’s transcript was right for me, I don’t think the mastery transcript or project based learning would be for everyone. So I think it would be really great if more schools started using it and it was more accessible than it is now.

The Mastery Transcript Elements:

Customizable and student-driven: Students can customize their personal narrative statement and their top three credits and pieces of evidence demonstrating their work performance. 

Reads like an online Resume: It looks like a resume with a student’s personal statement at the top followed by highlighted credits (graphically represented) and hyperlinks to student work products and a section describing any badges earned or learning experiences outside of school. The digital transcript is visually appealing, user friendly and shares many characteristics of a well-crafted resume.

Performance Evidence: Links to actual evidence of student work and mastery give depth and transparency to the student’s work record. 

21st Century Skill Attainment is Prominently Visible: Without forsaking the demonstration of content knowledge, the mastery transcript provides data on credit attainment related to 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication that are associated with success in school, career and life.