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By Denise Nickerson, Educational Consultant

It’s December, and for millions of high school seniors, or students in their final year of secondary school, it’s crunch time for college and university applications. Many colleges and universities (and even UCAS, the UK higher education application clearinghouse) have January deadlines for application materials. Before they take their IB, AP, Bac, or Matu exams, they are preparing the first job applications of their lives – applying to become uni students in the fall. For all students, but especially for international students, transcripts are a very important, heavily weighted part of the university application file.

What are transcripts?
Official transcripts are academic records. They are documents issued by a school or university that provide an educational record. They include dates, subjects studied, some kind of indication of how much time was spent studying each subject, and grades or evaluation received for each academic subject. On a transcript, it should be obvious if the student in question successfully completed his courses or not. Academic credit received may also be evident. Transcripts exist in almost every country, and are used by schools and universities all over the world. They cannot be created by a parent or a student, but must be issued, printed, certified or created by an educational institution (a school, college, university, or other professional institute). Report cards or grade reports can be made into transcripts if a school does not have a transcript system in place (usually with stamps and signatures obtained officially at the school).

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?

transcript1 webHere are some ways transcripts are used for kids:

  • When you move – internationally or locally: Your children’s new school may need information in order to put them in the correct level of math or language, for example.
  • When your child changes schools – even if you don’t move house: Again, the new school may be part of a different system or use a different curriculum.
  • If you need any kind of psychological, giftedness, or special needs evaluation: Educators and psychologists often use academic history to look for trends and symptoms and identify struggles and successes.
  • If your child has a break from regular schooling due to illness, crisis, or travel: In this case, you may need transcripts to create a homeschooling plan, for a tutor, or to create a smooth transition back into regular schooling after the break. Some kids can take three months off of school for an illness and join their classmates when they return to school. Others will need extra help in a summer or even to repeat a year of schooling. This depends not only on the child but also on when the break takes place (a long absence for a seven-year-old does not have the same academic repercussions as for a seventeen-year-old).
  • If you are deciding about your child repeating a year of school or skipping a year of school: An educational consultant can help you evaluate which courses might be missing from the big picture if your child might skip a grade or year – then you can add on these subjects in summers or as an extracurricular program of study. If your child is struggling, looking at past academic performance over time can help you decide if a “do-over” is needed.
  • The most widespread use of transcripts for kids is to gain access to higher education after high school. Sometimes, advanced academic credit is awarded by universities for outstanding performance in certain AP, IB, Bac or Matu courses as well – in this case your child’s transcript can actually save you money!

transcript2 webHere 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.

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!

As an educational consultant, I can help you track down and interpret academic transcripts for your and your children. I've had training in reading academic transcripts from over 100 countries through a professional training program at Georgetown University and years of professional experience in international education.


denise biopic 150Denise Nickerson, co-author of Know-it-all passport’s Education Guide Switzerland is American and French. She is a Fulbright scholar with a Teacher’s Certification and a Master’s Degree in Education. She has been a speaker in over 300 international schools in 30 different countries. She works as a speaker, writer, college and university counselor, and educational consultant working with families around the world, as well as providing training and development for educators in schools and universities. International education is her passion!