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The P's and Q's of High School Portfolios

  • Malia Russell The Old Schoolhouse
  • Updated Nov 20, 2009
The P's and Q's of High School Portfolios

Is it time to start putting together your graduate's high school portfolio? If so, do not be worried. All you have to do is mind your P's and Q's. 


The primary purpose of putting together a high school portfolio is to be fully prepared if a portfolio is required for admission to a college or university. (Incidentally, many junior colleges don't even request transcripts if you are still in high school and taking dual credit classes.) Even if your child is not making plans to attend college soon, he may change his mind years later, and then it will be much more difficult to create an effective portfolio. Also, many employers may ask for a high school portfolio, including government employers. A good high school portfolio also can provide a beautiful way to commemorate and celebrate all of your student's achievements. 


Your graduate's portfolio should be professional. Include all the traditional elements of a portfolio. Portfolios should be typed. Use a clean, traditional font and print it on crisp, white paper. There will be plenty of opportunity to focus on your scholar's personality later. In the first few pages, show that you can conform to normal standards, and present the facts clearly and concisely. 


Celebrate the fact that your scholar is home educated. Include personal information to the extent that it reflects the unique and positive attributes of your student. For example, if your child has been taking piano lessons for twelve years and works with the local symphony, include that information. If your student has a grass cutting business, is the town babysitter, goes on mission trips every year, or volunteers at the public library, include that information too. 

Cite your graduate's work experience. Some work experience can be applied toward high school credits. Include work experience on the course list, along with corresponding grades. If the work does not represent enough hours to count toward class credits, then record those experiences as extracurricular activities. Also include things such as significant travel. If your family goes on educational trips to Washington, D.C. or to state parks, document that information. Brainstorm about what makes your student unique and find ways to present those attributes succinctly.

Personal References

When applying for admission to colleges or applying for scholarships, your child may be asked to provide several personal references. Ask numerous people for references and then use the best ones. Start collecting these letters in your student's early high school years. Ask coaches, teachers, Scout leaders, youth leaders, employers, mission trip coordinators, and others to write letters about your children as these relationships occur and as they come to their natural conclusions. 

You can use these letters for a variety of purposes (e.g., college admissions, scholarships, and job applications, as well as scrapbooking). If your student is already approaching graduation, you can still ask for these references, but when you do, offer a bullet point list of your child's achievements to date so that the individual will have some pertinent information to include in his letter. 


Consider the typical questions that a college admission person would want to know before admitting your child. Make sure you can answer these questions before they are asked. For example, if you include GPA records, also provide the scale you used and state whether it is weighted or unweighted. If your child took some classes outside the home, include footnotes citing when and where each class was taken. If your student participated in outside activities in which others assigned scores or evaluations, be sure to include those scores and briefly explain how they were assigned and by whom, if possible.

Also include a footnote about any of the student's classes that were sponsored by a co-op, even if you hosted the co-op in your home. If you identify these classes as co-op classes or "outside" classes, the admissions officer will be able to determine that your child has had some instruction in group settings. 

Be prepared to document which textbooks were used to teach certain subjects. If you self-created a course, be prepared to share what you required your student to do in order to earn the credit. Simply making a photocopy of the inside cover page of each textbook will provide you with enough information to jog your memory in case you need that information later. Many universities do not require this much information, but keep it handy in a file folder in case you are asked for it. If your child is pursuing a journalism degree or English degree, you may want to include his or her reading list in the portfolio. Some colleges will require this, regardless of the student's declared major. 

Even though a portfolio is a bit like a resumé, be sure all parts of the portfolio packet work together to tell the same story. For example, if your child scored very low on college entrance exams (such as the ACT or SAT), it would not make sense for him to have a perfect 4.0 GPA. This is simply not realistic. Your child does not have to look perfect to gain college admission. However, if your scholar is very art-oriented and barely passed math, make sure you include achievements in art within his list of academic and extracurricular endeavors.

The first two pages of our students' portfolios are their actual transcripts, which include basic information such as name, address, contact info, school name, courses, and grades. The transcript portion of the portfolio also should include the student's GPA and explain how it was determined. Be sure to include ACT and SAT test scores as well. 

Next, designate a single page of the portfolio for each year of high school. On these pages, present the information in more of a resumé style that includes more detailed information for each year of high school. For each course taken, include the name and author of the textbook or other resources. Thoroughly document work experience, extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, mission trips, and any significant travel. 

You can also include your reading list here—a separate list for each year or a composite list for all four years of high school. (This reading list is also nice to have as a reference for other students.) Some colleges may additionally require an essay, portfolio of academic work, or art samples (e.g., in the case of art majors). 

To summarize, remember that when putting together your college admission package, mind your P's and Q's. 

  • Purpose 
  • Professional 
  • Shows Personality 
  • Included Personal References 
  • Anticipate and answer Questions that the college admission people will likely ask.


Malia Russell is the blessed wife to Duncan, thankful mother to four children (ages 3-18), and an author, conference speaker, and director of Visit her site for inspiration, encouragement, and practical help in your roles as a Godly wife, mother, homemaker, or home educator.

Let us introduce you to an excellent portfolio resource that we've used successfully: The Homeschool Graduate Portfolio. You can email Malia at

Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2009.  Used with permission. Visit them at For all your homeschool curriculum needs, visit the Schoolhouse StoreSubscribe now to TOS Magazine for only $7.95!-U.S. only- Use cod SUB795 at checkout. Good until January 2010. Get 4 issues for almost the price of 1.