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Evaluating Your Transcripts

How do U.S. colleges & universities evaluate foreign transcripts?

Since educational systems vary from country to country, there are many challenges in understanding what educational records to submit when applying to a U.S. college or university and how they are evaluated.

"What should I submit?"

International students usually submit transcripts when they apply for admission to a U.S. college or university. Most U.S. schools want official transcripts, which generally means that transcripts must be sent directly to the U.S. school from the foreign school or exam board. In some cases, the U.S. school may accept original copies hand-carried by the student. A transcript shows courses, grades or exam marks, years of attendance, and the title of the diploma earned, if any. It usually contains signatures or seals. Students who have only completed high school or secondary school should have the transcripts of their high school or secondary school courses sent, as well as any final exam marks that demonstrate completion of the secondary level; in some cases transcripts of completed upper/higher secondary courses/exams are appropriate. Students who have completed some courses or a degree at a university should send those transcripts, and may also be asked to send secondary school transcripts as well. In most cases, U.S. schools want the transcript in the original language, but may also ask for a translation. Remember, most U.S. schools want these transcripts directly from the issuing school or exam board, rather than the student's personal copy.

U.S. schools use transcripts for two purposes. The first purpose is to determine admission. The admission officer will look at the level of the previous education, the type of preparation, and the quality of the achievement in order to make an admission decision. Some schools are very selective; other schools are more flexible.

The second purpose is to determine if the student should receive advanced standing at the U.S. school. Another phrase for advanced standing is "transfer credit". It means that the U.S. college or university may accept previous coursework completed in the home country as meeting some of the requirements at the U.S. school. For example, some U.S. schools may accept "A" level exams as equivalent to some first year courses so that the international student does not have to repeat them. Some U.S. colleges and universities will tell a student whether or not he/she has any advanced standing or transfer credit in their letter of admission; others may wait until the student arrives in the U.S.

In order to have a smooth admission process, international students should list all of their educational levels in clear chronological order, including dates of attendance, the name of the school(s), and any diplomas, degrees or exams that have been completed. Students should pay special attention to obtaining and submitting complete official transcripts. A copy of a diploma is usually not sufficient. Instead, a proper transcript contains a complete list of courses, exams, grades and dates and the title of any diploma or degree awarded. Students should read the admission requirements carefully to determine if they should have transcripts sent from their previous (or current) school, or if it is acceptable to obtain them in a sealed envelope and attach the envelope to their application, along with the financial statement and/or other material required for admission. In some cases, the admissions officer or credential evaluator will request a syllabus (a complete course description) in order to determine the level and content of previous coursework, so the student should be ready to obtain that from his/her school.

"How are my transcripts evaluated?"

Many schools in the U.S. evaluate the transcript themselves, and have resources and policies on their campus for doing so. Though many evaluators follow evaluation guidelines published in educational books (called "Council Recommendations"), it is possible that their college or university may have specific guidelines of its own in certain circumstances. Higher education in the U.S. is not nationally centralized, and, in general, U.S. colleges and universities are able to exercise autonomy regarding their evaluations of what credentials qualify for admission and advanced standing.

Some colleges and universities require students to have their transcripts evaluated by an independent agency in the U.S. There are a number of professional agencies, and students should select one recommended by the college or university they plan to attend. There is usually a substantial fee for this service, about $100-200. Once the credential evaluation is done by the agency, the college or university interprets it and makes its own decision about admission and/or transfer credit.

U.S. colleges and universities welcome international students and attempt to publish clear directions about how to apply as well as what documents and transcripts must be submitted. In general, it is a good idea to apply to a U.S. college or university at least 4-8 months in advance in order to assure that all documents are submitted and evaluated in time for admission, visa application, and arrival. Students are encouraged to contact the Admissions Office if they have any questions about what to submit and about how their credentials will be evaluated. Address your questions to the "International Admissions Officer" at the school(s) of your choice, and include your e-mail address, if you have one.