What Is a College Transcript?

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In essence, your college transcript is your school's documentation of your academic performance. Your transcript will list your classes, grades, credit hours, major(s), minor(s), and other academic information, depending on what your institution decides is most important. It will also list the times you were taking classes (think "Spring 2014," not "Monday/Wednesday/Friday at 10:30 a.m.") as well as when you were awarded your degree(s).

Some institutions might also list any major academic honors, like being awarded summa cum laude, on your transcript.

Your transcript will also list academic information that you might not want listed (like a withdrawal) or that will be revised later (like an incomplete), so make sure your transcript is up to date and accurate before using it for any important purposes.

The Difference Between an Official and Unofficial Transcript

When someone wants to see your transcript, they'll likely ask to see either an official or an unofficial copy. But what's the difference between the two?

An unofficial copy is often a copy you can print out online. It lists most, if not all, of the same information as the official copy. In contrast, however, an official copy is one that is certified as accurate by your college or university. It often comes sealed in a special envelope, with some kind of college seal, and/or on institutional stationery.

In essence, an official copy is as close as your school can get to assuring the reader that her or she is looking at a formal, certified copy of your academic performance in school. Official copies are much harder to duplicate or alter than unofficial copies, which is why they are the type most often requested.

Requesting a Copy of Your Transcript

Your college registrar's office likely has a rather easy process for requesting (official or unofficial) copies of your transcript. First, check online; chances are you can submit your request online or at least find out what you'll need to do. And if you aren't sure or have questions, feel free to call the registrar's office. Providing copies of transcripts is a pretty standard procedure for them so it should be easy to submit your request.

Because so many people need copies of their transcripts, however, be prepared for your request -- especially if it's for an official copy -- to take a little while. You'll also likely have to pay a small fee for official copies, so be prepared for that expense. You might be able to have your request rushed, but there will undoubtedly be a small delay regardless.

Why You Might Need Your Transcript

You might be surprised at how often you have to request copies of your transcript, both as a student and later as an alumni.

As a student, you might need copies if you're applying for scholarships, internships, academic awards, transfer applications, research opportunities, summer jobs, or even upper-division classes. You might also need to provide copies to places like your parents' health and car insurance companies to verify your status as a full-time or part-time student.

After you graduate (or as you prepare for life after graduation), you'll likely need copies for graduate school applications, job applications, or even housing applications. Because you never know who is going to ask to see a copy of your college transcript, it's a good idea to keep a spare copy or two with you so you'll always have one available -- proving, of course, that you learned more than just coursework during your time in school!