Everything You Need to Know about College Transcripts

Everything You Need to Know about College Transcripts


College transcripts are the closest thing a student has to a permanent record. They detail your academic history, including your grades, the courses you have completed, and whether or not you graduated. They may also list additional information, such as a history of academic probation, honor code violations, or awards for your school performance. 

Your transcripts can unlock academic doors. They’re key to transferring credits from one university to another and are the best way to verify your prior academic performance. Yet many students struggle to get their transcripts and don’t know how to ensure that their previous work follows them from one institution to another. If you’ve found yourself struggling to navigate this process yourself, here’s everything you need to know about transcripts before applying to a college degree program. 

What’s in a College Transcript? 

A college transcript is a detailed record of your previous schoolwork. It includes: 

  • · A list of all classes you’ve taken. Depending on your school’s policies for dropping classes, it may also list classes you enrolled in but didn’t complete.
  • · The scores you received for all classes. Most transcripts include a number and letter grade.
  • · A list of dates attended and majors. The transcript will also list the dates during which you took certain classes.
  • · Grade point average. The transcript may also list your GPA as of your last semester of enrolment, or itemize a GPA for each semester.
  • · Student information. Depending on the information your school gathers, the transcript may also list your full name, date of birth, and student identification number.
  • · Other institutions. The transcript may list other schools you attended, as well as transfer credits you received from those schools.
  • · Official documentation. An official transcript also contains a seal, signature, or other official documentation indicating the document came from the registrar’s office.

Unofficial transcripts are free, and list the classes you’ve taken and the grades you’ve received. You usually have to pay a fee for official transcripts, which come directly from your school’s registrar. Most schools will not let you enrol without an official transcript.

What are transcripts for? 

So, you now know that transcripts are important if you want to go to university; but, did you know that you may need transcripts at other points in your child’s life, or even in your own professional life?

Here are some ways transcripts are used for adults:

  • · When you want to finish an unfinished degree: Did you know that some academic credits expire and others last for decades? Once I helped a client piece together her undergraduate education spanning 3 decades. She was blocked and fearful of a four-year attempt to earn her degree. Using her transcripts from several universities, we were able to find her a way to graduate within three semesters of academic work.
  • · When you want to go to graduate school: Yes, they will want to look at your undergraduate transcripts, even if many years have passed.
  • · When you want to complete a professional postgraduate program of study – even if the program is not degree-awarding but rather for a certificate.
  • · When you need to demonstrate a specific competency for a job. If you have taken a course in something like “instructional technology,“ “mastering design software”, or “conflict journalism” you may want to match that training to a job description when you apply.
  • · When you need a professional permit or license to practice: For professions in medicine and education and others you may have to demonstrate academic experience in certain subject areas.

How to Get a Copy of Your Transcript 

You can view an unofficial copy of your transcript by logging into your student portal or account and printing out your history. This transcript is free. It can be helpful as you begin the application process, particularly if the school to which you apply wants a list of recent courses or needs to know your GPA before it receives your transcript. Your unofficial transcript may also help you assess whether you meet certain prerequisites for the classes you hope to take or the program in which you want to enroll. 

Most universities won’t accept an unofficial transcript. There are numerous reasons for this, including that an unofficial transcript may be incomplete. It’s also possible to forge an unofficial transcript. So at some point during the application and admission process, you’ll need to supply an official document. Each school’s rules for this vary slightly. Some only require an official transcript upon admission, while others want the transcript to be sent when you apply. 

To get an official copy of your transcript, contact your school’s registrar. In most cases, you don’t even have to call or go in person; the registrar’s office may have an online form for requesting your transcript. You can usually pay the transcript fee online too. If the school does not offer such a form, you may need to download and print the right document, then send a check. 

The process can take several weeks, so plan ahead. If you’re working under a tight deadline, contact the school to ask about transcript processing times. In some cases, you may be able to expedite the process by paying a transcript rush fee. 

Do I Need a Transcript to Apply to College? 

Students who attended college many years ago or who did not get good grades the first time may wonder whether they need a transcript. Some may even prefer to get a fresh start rather than transferring bad grades to a new school. 

The truth is that even if your grades aren’t great, you need a transcript. Even a single transfer credit can help expedite your graduation. Perhaps more importantly, most schools require you to submit all relevant transcripts. It may even be an honor code violation to exclude a school.  

Where to Send Your Transcripts 

In most cases, you cannot pick up a copy of your transcript and take it to your new university. Instead, you’ll need your old school to directly send transcripts to the new school. This process can take some time, especially if you’re seeking a transcript from a larger school or your transcripts are very old. So contact each school as early in the application process as possible. 

Most schools ask you to provide a specific address to which to send your transcript. Your new school’s registrar can provide this information. Contact them before completing a transcript request, because sending a transcript to the wrong office can delay the process or incur additional expenses.

A Simple Checklist for Getting Your College Transcripts

Applying for college can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if you previously attended several schools. You don’t have to become a transcript expert to navigate the process. Just follow this simple to-do list: 

  1. Check with the admissions office of your chosen school for details about their transcript policy. 
  2. Make a list of each school you have previously attended, no matter how long ago or how briefly. 
  3. Complete a transcript request form with each school. You can usually fill out the form online, and you may have to pay a small fee. 
  4. If the school from which you need a transcript is closed, contact the organization that oversees higher education. They can tell you how to get a transcript. 
  5. Follow up with the school to which you are applying to ensure they receive each transcript. 
  6. After they have received your transcripts, meet with an academic advisor to discuss which classes will transfer. In some cases, you may have to fill out a form to request that your classes transfer or to appeal a denial of transfer credit. 

Final Thoughts

Wherever you or your children are attending school, it’s always a good idea to ask who is in charge of transcripts, or official academic records. You never know when you might need some!

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