Transcripts: What You Need to Know


If you’ve earned college credit from another institution or by way of credit-by-exam (CLEP, AP, IB, etc.), you will need to submit an official transcript to your own school. If you’re getting ready to transfer, you’ll need to make sure to have transcripts from all institutions you’ve ever attended sent to your transfer school. What does all of this mean? How do I get transcripts? What is a transcript and what’s on it? If you’re ready to understand how transcripts can affect your record, read on.

A transcript is documentation of a student’s record. Transcripts vary from school to school, but the basics of what’s included are:

  1. The courses you took
  2. When you took them
  3. How many credits the courses are worth at that school
  4. The grades you received
  5. Your cumulative, term and institutional GPAs
  6. Your academic status

Other things that may be included are extracurricular affiliations, Honors status, certification of completion of general education requirements.

Keep in mind that the information on the transcript is reflective of your record at the time the transcript was generated. If you are registered for courses in the spring term, your transcript will most likely show any coursework previous to this semester and will reflect your spring registration. However, if final grades for the spring semester haven’t been submitted, there won’t be any grades for your spring courses. Typically you’ll see something like IP or “In Progress” in place of the grade.

As you are sending transcripts to prospective schools, sending a current transcript isn’t a bad idea, but you absolutely should send an updated transcript with your final grades once they’ve posted. An updated transcript is usually needed by any school that you decide to apply to so that the school can make an informed decision about your admission. Besides, you want to get credit for courses you’ve paid for and grades you’ve earned! 

How do I get my credits from one school to another?

Transcripts are a two-part process; one part you have control over, the other, much less so. The first step is to request that a transcript be sent to the institution you want to transfer to. Transcript requests are usually directed at the Registrar’s Office. The transcript gets generated and sent on its way to step two: having your credit attributed to your record at your new institution. You’re going to want to keep an eye on this; if you feel that a reasonable amount of time has lapsed, contact your new school’s Registrar’s Office to see if the transcript has been received and make sure to ask how long it will take to be put on your record. Keep in mind that peak periods occur in the leadup to a semester, so you’ll want to plan accordingly and make sure to check up on it regularly. 

Official vs. Unofficial Transcripts

If you are providing a transcript to a prospective school, that school will most likely require an official transcript. An official transcript is printed on special paper that usually has a counterfeit-proof watermark and is signed by the Registrar. A fee is usually required for preparing a transcript and there may be additional fees incurred that relate to sending the transcript somewhere (another school or potential employer). The transcript is in a sealed envelope, and if that seal is broken prior to being delivered, the transcript is considered unofficial.

I would strongly recommend having a few official transcripts sent to yourself, especially if you’ve been awarded a degree are looking for a job. That way, you’ll have one at the drop of a hat when that unexpected opportunity comes your way. I have one copy of each transcript from every school I’ve attended. I’ve opened them, making them unofficial, but I like to keep them for my records, and I’ve also scanned them to have at my disposal electronically.

Some institutions have the capability to receive or send official transcripts electronically and this will vary by state or school. Electronic transcripts can be much more quickly attributed to your record, so it’s worthwhile to see if it’s an option for you. 

Unofficial transcripts refer to transcripts that:

  1. were in a sealed envelope but were open prior to delivery to a prospective school/employer
  2. accessed and printed via your student portal
  3. an electronic transcript sent to you via a service like Scrip-Safe

While not an official statement of your academic record, having an unofficial transcript at the ready can be helpful. If you are meeting with an advisor to get ready to register at a new institution, but your official transcript hasn’t been sent or hasn’t been processed and added to your record, having your unofficial transcript can give the advisor a pretty good idea of what you’ve taken and what your grades have been like so that they can make their best recommendations.

And don’t forget – your advisor is a valuable resource here, so don’t hesitate to talk to your advisor. Advisors, of all people, want to make sure you’re successful, whether if it’s at your current school or if you transfer out.

Whew! That was a lot of information, and even as someone who understands this stuff, my circuits are starting to short! I’d love it if you’d leave me a comment with any of your questions. I’ll talk to you all soon!

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