Hopefully it’s no surprise that you need to get your transcripts from college to include in your MBA apps. Those can take some time to procure, so presumably you’ve already got them on order. If not, or if you’re confused by the requirements or what you need to submit and when, we’ll go over the basics today.
First of all, we will note that as with many things in MBA apps, this is an area that has seen some shifts in requirements from school to school just lately, so as with all things, you’ll want to confirm the rules directly with your program. Most schools are fine with so-called “unofficial” transcripts submitted with the app, and they only require — in fact, do not even want — the official transcripts submitted until and unless you’re going to matriculate as an actual student.
So what’s the difference?
The “unofficial” transcript is the same exact thing as the “official” one, except for the way it’s delivered. The “unofficial” one is the transcript that’s come through your hands, either mailed to you through the postal service and you have opened the enveloped and unfolded the page, or emailed to you, or in some cases provided electronically through a third-party service.
If you have access to it, then that means it’s “unofficial.”
This typically does not mean a printout of your classes and grades, such as your school’s student account system might provide. That’s not a transcript, it’s a printout of grades. In a pinch, such as for coursework done at a separate school over summer, or a not-for-credit class you have recently taken as part of your professional interests, you could include a screenshot like that. But it’s not what you should be submitting as record of grades earned in any degree-granting program you’ve been enrolled.
So, you do want to order your unofficial transcripts now, so you can get them as a PDF and then upload them into your applications to each of these schools. You do not want to be sending official transcripts to the schools, because they don’t want them now. They only want you to provide your academic records through the app interface itself. They don’t want to worry about their mailroom getting inundated with 3,000 separate envelopes from different applicants and trying to marry-up the right piece of mail with each electronic file.
If you don’t have your unofficial transcript electronically already, then order it and when you receive it, scan it in to a multi-page PDF. If you’re scanning from hardcopy, you need to include front and back of each page. If you’re an international applicant, you may need to submit more than just the transcript, including the degree certificate or diploma, any statement from your school’s registrar about class rank or standing, and a certified translation if any of that isn’t in English.
We have more on transcripts for international students here.
Now here’s a wrinkle or two to be aware of:
If you did a study-abroad, then the courses and grades need to be included on your main university transcript. If they’re not, then you need to get a separate transcript from that study-abroad school. The only school we’ve ever heard of who’s waived this requirement is Duke, and that’a brand-new change they instituted only for the Class of 2022 (presumably an effort to reduce friction in the process and encourage more BSers to apply). For all other schools we’ve ever talked to, the adcom needs a transcript from that study-abroad school if the detail on grades is not included in your “home” university records.
So, while we commend Duke for trying to simplify things and make it easier on applicants, it’s unlikely to have too great of an effect, given that all of their peers still have the more onerous requirement. Perhaps if more of them change (as is slowly — slowly — happening with TOEFL requirements) then it’ll make more of a difference.
Another oddity that probably doesn’t matter in actuality since it’s such a one-off situation is that some schools cannot accept a digitally signed or authenticated secure PDF for the transcript when you upload it into the app (MIT? we’re forgetting who made this disclaimer in their app recently), wherea schools others will require that you get this if you are accepted and enroll as a student. It’s the same transcript, but different forms of it, and they’re accepted at different stages. So again, reading the requirements of each of your target business schools carefully is important, to make sure you’re in compliance with the things that they need for your MBA app.
Oh yeah: If you scan a hardcopy unofficial transcript to create a PDF, make sure you use settings that are legible, and that the document isn’t skewed or sideways when the user opens it up on their screen. So often, we see too-faint and too-wonky files constructed for transcripts, and it just makes the wrong impression. Sweat the details, make it perfect. If you need to capture your transcript by taking a picture of it, then lay it out carefully in a file and PDF the file, or whatever magic you need to inflict on it so that it’s readable and clear. It needs to have all pages captured in one, so figure out how to combine them using some type of PDF utility, and then do some quality assurance on it when you’re done — are all pages facing the same way, are the in the right order, can you open the file on multiple machines with no problems.
These are annoyance factors that you can avoid in your application.
A few schools let you recreate a transcript into a grade reporting template that they provide, but if you can avoid using that in favor of actual transcript files, it’s better. The potential for mistakes is too great, and the consequences of a mistake are too grave.
Any discrepancy on what the transcripts say when you apply, versus what they say when the school decides to admit you, can be immediate cause for rescinding an offer or cancenling an enrollment. This is an area where sweating the details is crucial.
Get this taken care of right away, Brave Supplicant. While a school might allow you to mitigate an issue like missing a file with your transcripts, there’s no guarantee that they will – and it would suck to find out a week past the deadline that your app is considered incomplete and won’t be reviewed in that round. Take the time to make these things perfect. In this regard, there’s really no excuses to do it any other way.
Worried about the grades on your transcript and how they might affect your chances with your MBA applications? Check out our Transcripts & Grades MBA App Accelerator for tools that allow you to self-assess how bad it might be (maybe it’s not that bad!) and what you can do to offset weakness in GPA and academics in your apps to top business schools.