Barriers to an Unofficial Transcript

When you apply for a job or graduate school, the initial application often requires you to submit a transcript. The wording goes something like: “submit a transcript from the academic institution you attended (unofficial is fine for now).”

The first time I ran into this was when I started applying to graduate school. It made sense that you could submit your unofficial transcript, and if accepted, you would then send your official transcript. This process seemed simple enough, so I thought.

So, I went to my academic home page and immediately found the link to get my unofficial transcript.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 1.42.45 PM.png


Which brought me to this page.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 2.44.32 AM

I found it odd that there was a drop-down box for transcript type since the only thing you could select is “Unofficial” since the previous page clearly laid out the link to the official transcript. But, it doesn’t matter.

After clicking submit, my unofficial transcript was displayed as a webpage.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 2.45.30 AM


I was somewhat surprised that the submit button did not initiate an automatic pdf download. That’s ok; I’ll just find the pdf download button somewhere on this page. However, I still couldn’t find it after searching for more than ten minutes.

So I went back to my academic homepage and searched for “download unofficial transcript.” However, every link brought me back to:

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 2.44.32 AM

At this point, I’ve spent at least thirty minutes trying to download this stupid unofficial transcript. Perhaps there wasn’t a way to download your unofficial transcript. After all, you can easily alter a pdf with the right program, and schools wouldn’t want people “adjusting” their transcripts. While this made some sense, I assumed there had to be a way to download an unofficial transcript or else jobs and graduate schools wouldn’t ask for it.

After a couple of Google searches, I discovered that this was a pretty common problem at other colleges (many schools use the same software company for processing transcripts). I wish I could find it today, but I knew my search for a pdf was a lost cause when I came across a faq section at another school that suggested students create their own pdf by copy and pasting to a word doc (so much for discouraging people from altering their transcript). If the school’s goal is to deter people from tampering with their transcripts, this is a pretty terrible way of doing that.

Now, I’m a little frustrated that this process is becoming so difficult. But, pushing forward, I copy and paste the transcript into a word doc. It took a few tries, but I finally got the formatting to something readable.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 3.03.01 PM
↑                               As you can see, this was a 10 page pile of garbage.


Was I really going to send this as part of my application to Harvard, Oxford, Berkeley, etc. to convince them to let me into their school?

At this point, I figured I have two choices. I could spend a couple of hours fixing this formatting nightmare. Or I could order an official transcript, pick it up from school and scan it the next day. I chose the latter. Considering that I’m doing this assignment for my class at Harvard, I think I made the right choice. Not that it had that much of an effect on my admissions chances, at least it didn’t prevent me from getting in.

The sad reality is that this problem still exists. I took those screenshots yesterday. Colleges are supposed to offer the tools and resources you need to succeed after graduation. I was disappointed that my school made it so difficult to get something as simple as an unofficial transcript. Three years later, I am still shaking my head as to how unnecessarily complicated this process was.

There are a couple of things that could be contributing to this poor execution. First, the school may not have direct control over this process since they use the student information systems from a third party to deliver their e-transcripts. However, this appears to be a pretty common problem, so it seems like this is intentional. Which leads me to my second hypothesis, they (the school or the third party) are restricting access to a pdf to prevent tampering. While this seems like the most plausible reason, it doesn’t make sense because unofficial transcripts by nature are vulnerable to tampering. That’s why they are “unofficial.” If a student wants to alter an unofficial transcript, they can do it without having access to a pdf. By not offering a simple pdf download, schools are unnecessarily hindering student success after college.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s