How to Get College Transcripts and Why You Might Need Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

When you need to show someone proof of your college career, getting your transcripts is a must. Explore how to get college transcripts, why you may need to do so, the purpose of this document, and the steps you can take to obtain it.

[Featured Image] A young, happy college graduate sitting in her living room reading her college transcripts.

If you attended college for any period, you may find yourself tasked with proving that attendance—and even your performance—to someone. Perhaps you're transferring or finishing that degree at a different school or applying for a job or grad school. Or you may want to keep a copy on hand for reference. Essentially, your transcript is a permanent record of your college career.

Whatever your reason for needing a copy, this guide will explain how to get college transcripts, why you might need them, and other details you may need to know about these critical documents.   

What is in your college transcript?   

Your college transcript is the official record of your college career. Depending on the school you attend, your transcript may include:

  • Personal information, like your name, birth date, and permanent address 

  • Information relevant to your school, like your ID number and the type of learner you are (undergraduate, graduate, etc.)

  • Major(s) and minor(s) 

  • Any degree you obtained from that school 

  • Dates that you attended the school 

  • Date that you graduated, if applicable 

  • Information that may be relevant to your specific school career, like whether you graduated with honors or the title of your thesis   

  • Classes you took, including those from which you withdrew before completing 

  • Grades received for each class and your grade point average (GPA) 

  • The semester for each class taken 

  • Academic status and any record of past issues, like academic probation or honors code violations 

  • Awards and accolades for your academic performance 

Why you might need your college transcript

Several scenarios may require you to obtain your college transcript, whether you've graduated or not. For example, if you're currently enrolled or a former learner who wants to transfer to another school, you'll need the transcripts from any school you've ever attended. Providing this document helps your new school verify your academic record for admissions purposes, and it will help your academic advisor determine which courses you still need for your degree. 

You'll also need a college transcript if you want to apply to graduate school to get your master's or doctorate or if you want to attend law school or medical school. The school you apply to will ask for a copy of your transcript from every undergraduate school you attended to verify that you obtained your bachelor's degree.

You may need a college transcript when you apply to specific jobs. While this is not as common, and many employers will take your word for it, they may want proof that you graduated. Some may even want to see your GPA, mainly if you apply for an entry-level job and have little previous work experience. Your GPA can serve as proof that you are a hard worker. Employers may also want to see your transcript to verify your skills and background, to determine if your area of expertise fits their needs, to understand how you deal with challenges, and to verify the claims on your resume.

Government agencies, in particular, may want to see a transcript. Keep that in mind if you apply to organizations like NASA or the US Department of State. You will also likely need a transcript if you attended college before joining the military.

How to get college transcripts 

The process of getting college transcripts will vary from school to school. Your school’s registrar's office is an excellent starting point. Usually, you can visit the school's website and make a formal request online. The registrar's office may require you to fill out some personal information, like your name, college ID number, social security number, address, email address, phone number, and the dates you attended the school. They may also allow you to have the transcript sent to another school or a potential employer, so you'll need their address and contact information. Some schools may even require that an official transcript go to a school or employer rather than directly to the learner. 

Some schools use third-party services, like Parchment or CertiFile, to deliver transcripts. You can typically find instructions for using these digital programs on the registrar's office's website. If your school doesn't offer an online option for ordering your transcript, you may need to submit a written request or visit in person. 

Remember that you'll typically have to pay a fee to get a copy of your official transcript. You can usually do this online, but the school may allow you to mail in a check instead. Receiving your transcript may take many weeks, so avoid waiting until the last minute to order your copies, especially if you have admissions deadlines.

Can a college withhold your transcript?  

If you provide the correct information and pay the fee, getting a copy of your college transcript is a fairly straightforward process. However, in the past, many schools could withhold your transcript if unpaid balances were owed to the school or if you defaulted on your student loans. That is now changing after the US Department of Education recently passed new regulations that prevent that practice. Starting July 2024, most schools will no longer be able to withhold transcripts from students who used federal financial aid to pay for course credits. Even if there was an unpaid balance on the account, those students can still receive their transcripts.

According to an October 2020 report from Ithaka S + R, roughly 6.6 million students have unpaid balances that would affect getting their transcripts [1].

Do you need an official or unofficial transcript?  

Both official transcripts and unofficial transcripts provide you with information about your college career, but they do have differences. You can usually go online to your school's website and print an unofficial transcript. An official transcript must come from the registrar's office and will have an official seal or signature to verify its authenticity. 

For career and educational purposes, it's generally best and often even required to use an official transcript. If you just want one for your records or to plan your next educational move, an unofficial transcript will usually work. However, you should be aware of the minor differences between the two.

Getting started with Coursera 

Obtaining a college transcript is just one part of the process of transferring to another school, returning to school, or getting a job. Take even more steps to prepare for your future by taking online classes on Coursera. You'll find offerings from top education institutions, like Getting Started with Essay Writing from the University of California, Irvine; Applying to US Universities from the University of Pennsylvania; and How to Write a Resume from The State University of New York. 

Article sources

  1. Ithaka S+R. "Solving Stranded Credits," Accessed April 1, 2024.

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