Field Notes: In defense of transcripts

"Field Notes" is an occasional Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

by Eric Shadle, MBA, Assistant Director of University Admissions, Loma Linda University

I recently read an article in the newspaper which called into question the importance of academic transcripts and deadlines during the application process. In response to this article I wanted to stress the importance of having a complete academic history of all applicants. My goal in this paper is to discuss the importance of transcripts, talk about some of the things that may be included on a transcript, and to discuss how these documents are used.

In this article, I am primarily speaking about college transcripts as that is what I am most familiar with. However, transcripts are also very important for advisors to help students map out their high school coursework (

Transcripts can be a tedious hurdle for applicants to clear before gaining admission to a college or university, but they are hugely important. They are used for multiple reasons and by several departments including financial aid, admissions, and the registrar. Transcripts may also help demonstrate an applicant’s ability to follow direction. Requiring transcripts of all applicants provides multiple benefits for the institution to which the applicant is applying.

Uses of the academic transcript

Probably the most obvious use for an academic transcript is to show the academic history of a student. Other uses for academic transcripts may include internships, scholarships, academic awards, and employment ( It is important to understand that there is no standard format for academic transcripts and each institution may choose to include different pieces of the overall picture ( An academic transcript is intended to provide a clear and accurate record of what courses were taken, the scores and credits earned, as well as any degrees earned. In addition to these things, a transcript may also show if the student had to take any sort of leave of absence, test scores such as the SAT, if they have any international coursework, or if they needed to repeat a course. In essence a transcript acts as an unbiased reference letter concerning one’s academic career.

Another important use of transcripts is with financial aid. Transcripts are used to verify attendance history to help avoid fraud and abuse and to determine a student’s ability to succeed. Transcripts are also used to determine eligibility for state and federal grants.

Beyond the aforementioned points, many people are interested in finding accurate predictors for success. There are many different tests and indicators which schools may choose to look at when evaluating an applicant, all in the hopes of evaluating whether a given student will succeed or not. According to a study done among dental hygiene students, “incoming GPA” is the best predictor of success and it was the only indicator found to be statistically significant in predicting National Dental Hygiene Board scores (Downey, Collins, and Browning, 2002).  Without the transcript admissions officers would not have an accurate and reliable way to view and evaluate prior academic achievement.

Deadlines work

Tying the transcript requirement to a hard deadline offers applicants another opportunity to show admissions personnel how responsible they are, their commitment to the program they are applying to, and their ability to follow direction. As one who works in the admissions processing office of a mid-size university, I appreciate students who are proactive and have their documents sent to us on time or early.

It is common practice for college admissions offices to require transcripts to be sent to them directly from the issuing institution. Furthermore, these admissions offices typically require that all documents be received by a specified deadline. We get calls on a daily basis from applicants checking on the status of their documents which they had sent to us and they are often surprised at how long it takes for documents to be sent through the mail. I always remind people that we have no way to track items sent through the regular mail and if they are up against a deadline I recommend that they pay for express delivery with tracking information. Because applicants frequently do not realize how much time it will take for document to be received, they often become panicked when a deadline is approaching and we still do not have their documents. While I understand how difficult and how tedious it may be to send documents, I am in the position of seeing how many applicants are able to successfully clear these hurdles within the specified timeframe. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each applicant to make certain that their documents are received before the application deadline.

Due to the importance of academic transcripts and of the accessibility to them, I see very few reasons why a school should accept a transcript beyond the deadline and almost no reason to waive the requirement entirely. So, stay strong and uphold your admissions standards because I can almost guarantee that every student should be able to provide official and final transcripts before they can register for classes at your institution.



MC Downey, MA Collins, and WD Browning. Predictors of success in dental hygiene education: a six-year review. J Dent Educ 2002 66:1269-1273.

Faculty Forum Teaching of Psychology. Vol 30, Issue 4, pp. 307 – 330. First published date: August-26-2016

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