How do you send transcripts to colleges?

Image Courtesy: Rao Advisors

By Rajkamal Rao  

This post is updated with information for international students.

If you're a high school student, a vexing question is:  When it's time to apply to colleges, how do I send my transcripts to them?

This is an important question because in the digital world we live in, high school performance metrics are routinely zapped to colleges and universities from external organizations based on our request.  The College Board sends SAT and AP scores; the ACT sends ACT scores.  But there's a mystery which surrounds how high schools report the most important part of a student's profile - the official transcript.

Enter Naviance and Parchment

Luckily, high school transcripts are seamlessly transferred thanks to the platforms of two private companies - Naviance and Parchment - which have established a wide network of both origin and destination institutions.

Naviance is an older system that has been in existence for decades.  A 12th grader requests the guidance counselor at a high school to upload transcripts into Naviance using its eDocs format.  After the required checks and balances to verify authenticity, Naviance sends the eDocs file of a student to the Common App, the most common platform used by students to apply to colleges.  At the destination college, the student profile from the Common App is matched with the Naviance eDocs file along with similar files from the College Board and the ACT.  This is how all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are assembled to make the student whole again.

Parchment is a competitor of Naviance and works with thousands of high schools in a similar manner.  A key difference is that with Parchment, the student signs up for a free account.  If the high school is a Parchment partner, the student can request transcripts, recommendation letters and other official documents with a few clicks online and have them sent to the Common App or the Coalition App by choosing these destinations from a search box.  Sometimes colleges don't entertain either application platform.  In such cases, the student selects each college from a search box - in an Amazon-like interface.  When the first school appears on the order form, the student can go back and add more schools to the cart.  When finished, a single click will send the transcripts to all the schools on the order form.

There's no cost to the student to use either service.

There's one more difference in the way Parchment works.  Parchment also partners with Naviance to "receive" a copy of the Naviance eDocs from schools that do not partner with Parchment.  So when a destination college cannot find the appropriate eDocs for a student for some reason, the college can query the Parchment database for a copy.  In this manner, colleges are not found struggling to gain access to a high school student's transcript.

Some colleges - mostly institutions abroad - are unable to handle electronic transcripts.  In such cases, both Naviance and Parchment will print out official transcripts and snail-mail them (as in the image above).  This again is done at no cost to the student.

International Students

International schools (even engineering colleges), and especially those from developing countries generally do not invest in such infrastructure because there's nothing in it for them. But for international schools that do, a common electronic credit transfer platform is eSCRIP-SAFE, a Global Electronic Transcript Delivery Network that supplements traditional paper transcripts by providing high schools, colleges, universities, and third party recipients with a network through which official transcripts are delivered in a secure and trusted environment. Think of eSCRIP-SAFE as the international equivalent of Parchment or Naviance.

If the international school is not a member of the eSCRIP-SAFE network, then students must mail documents in. Your school will print out your "marks cards" - on request. It will place a seal on each copy certifying that it is true and an official will sign it. A clerk will then insert the true copy into a school envelope with school markings (student-provided envelopes are not accepted) and along the edges of the flap, the clerk will again place a seal and initial on top to prevent the envelope from being tampered with (like in the image above). Faxed, scanned, photocopied or emailed copies are not acceptable. Also, the documents must reach the school before the deadline, not postmarked before the deadline. Transit times vary, so allow at least 3-4 weeks for your package to get to its destination.

U.S. colleges and universities don't always accept transcripts from foreign countries and require them to be credentialed by a third-party organization like WES. Students from India who require assistance in procuring transcripts from their institutions can utilize the services of a company like ITCS that specializes in providing such support.

It is always a good idea to ask the official to insert a standard letter describing the school's grading policies. Some schools use codes within their transcripts and these are meaningless to the casual reader. This issue is common even with U.S. high school districts. For example, Frisco ISD uses these codes on its transcripts which, without the accompanying explanations, would make heads spin.

MP1 = Marking period, denoting a period of six weeks. There are six MPs in a year.
CM1 = Comment 1, field not used by FISD, so always left blank.
CM2 = Comment 2, field not used by FISD, so always left blank.
CIT = Unknown, field not used by FISD, so always left blank.
ABS = Absent days in the Marking Period.
TDY = Tardy days in the MP.
YTDA = Year-to-date absences.
YTDY = Year-to-date tardy days.

Some destination colleges require you to submit the official grading policy of the school you are graduating from. For example, the University of Texas says this when discussing class rank: "Have your high school send us your official transcript(s) documenting all coursework undertaken during your high school career. If your high school does not rank students, include a statement from your school describing its policy, a copy of your school’s profile and a GPA or grade distribution report."

You now know how important it is to have this standard policy document as part of your transcript record.

With both in your sealed envelopes, you will then take them to the post office to mail out. We suggest that you always mail these envelopes certified mail, acknowledgment due.

One more thing. When you request true copies, you will request an additional copy for your records. You will scan this as a .pdf document and upload into Common App, Apply Tex, the Coalition App or whatever online system the destination institution requires you to use.

For the University of Texas in Austin, the process is slightly different. After you submit your ApplyTex application, you will get a confirmation and the so-called "Status Check Page" update in an email, usually within a couple of days. You will be given login information in that email. Using it, you can log into the Status Check Page and upload the "unofficial" .pdf of the marks sheet. For Texas A & M, you would simply upload the .pdf into the university's Howdy system.

The scanned version will serve as an "unofficial" copy until the original document reaches the destination institution. Admissions decisions are generally made with unofficial copies and are subject to be rescinded if the institution detects a variance with the original.

Our takeaway

To protect the integrity of the college admissions process, students are not permitted to send transcripts to colleges on their own.  Companies like Naviance and Parchment are critical cogs in a complex wheel to ensure that the correct information of millions of students is sent to colleges, on time, in an unbiased manner.  Naviance alone processed over 6 million transcripts in 2018, so it is difficult to imagine how the world of higher education would work without the heavy lifting that these companies do.

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