Gearing Up for Grad School: Getting Your Transcripts

There are three things you need to do when it comes to your transcripts: request them, submit them, and explain any negatives in them.

Requesting Your Transcripts

The rule of thumb here is that you need to request transcripts from all graduate and undergraduate institutions which you have attended. Don’t leave any of them out. Schools want to have your complete undergraduate and graduate academic history, and transcripts are the way to provide them with that.

A few notes:

  • Make sure to check and see if there are any transcript-specific forms that the school to which you are applying requests that you use or submit. If there are any such forms, make sure to submit them to your graduate and undergraduate institutions when your request you transcript, along with specific instructions on how and when to submit them.

  • Submit your transcript requests months in advance. It can take a few weeks for your request to be processed and mailed out, and you don’t want to be scrabbling for those important documents right as application deadlines loom.

  • Request a copy for yourself! Make sure you know what the admissions officers at the schools to which you’re applying will see.

Submitting Your Transcripts

Some schools will want you to submit your transcripts in two ways: an unofficial copy submitted directly through the school’s application platform, and another, official, copy submitted via mail. Others may just want an official copy submitted to them by mail.

A few notes:

  • Schools will want transcripts submitted to them directly from your undergraduate and graduate institutions. Do not have transcripts sent to you first, so that you can forward them. This may invalidate the documents, and you’ll have to start the request process all over again.

  • Again, make sure you request those transcripts months in advance, so that they can be submitted to the schools to which you are applying in plenty of time.

  • Read application instructions carefully! If a school requests that transcripts be submitted in a variety of ways, make sure to comply.

Explaining Negatives In Your Transcript

So what happens if you had a bad semester (or two, or three), or a failing grade, or a number of withdrawn or no-credit courses? You need to explain what happened, so that admissions officers can make a determination on your candidacy based on all the information. In order to do this, you need to submit an additional document known as an addendum. In essence, an addendum is a one- to two-paragraph explanation of the circumstances behind the situation, along with an acceptance of responsibility and an outline of the actions you have taken to ensure that the problem will not recur.

A few notes:

  • Write it carefully.  Tone and word choice are incredibly important when writing an addendum. Because addenda are essentially asking admissions officers to ignore or disregard very important parts of the application, you can easily end up sounding as if you are groveling—or, worse yet, you can end up sounding whiny, arrogant, irresponsible, immature, lacking in good judgment, or lacking in self-awareness. The addendum needs to convey the information without boring or offending the admissions officer reading it, and it needs to get the point across quickly and effortlessly, while still answering any questions brought up by the fact being addressed.

  • Keep it short. The longest any addendum should be is two pages, double-spaced (and that may be one page too long). There is absolutely no need to write an addendum that is longer than your essays. When addenda start breaking the 250-word barrier, you run the risk of both rambling and creating more problems than you are explaining.

  • Don’t tell the admissions officers how to do their job. If you are, for example, submitting materials explaining a particular grading curve or major at your college, make sure that the addendum simply presents the materials. Admissions officers will know how to interpret it and will understand it is a supplement to your file. You don’t need to interpret it for them.

  • Keep it drama-free. Overselling the case or overstating the flaws tends to remove any seriousness from the addendum and renders it useless for the purposes of explaining the flaw. You’re not trying to tug at heartstrings or solicit pity, so veer away from dramatic language.

  • Stick to the facts. Don’t provide unnecessary information. Aside from increasing the length of the document, unnecessary details can also detract from the message you are seeking to convey.

  • No flights of fancy. Addenda are different from other application essays in that there is no element of creative writing in them. This is simply an explanation and a presentation of circumstances.

  • Understand this is not an excuse. What is being provided to admissions officers is additional information to consider during the evaluation of an application. The facts must be presented clearly, lessons learned should be discussed, and what you’ve put in place to ensure the negative doesn’t happen again should be explained. Excuses are just that—excuses. And they have no place in an addendum.