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How to Get My Transcript: A Guide to Requesting Your College Records

To obtain an official college transcript, which can typically be delivered digitally or by mail, you'll need to fill out an order form that'll ask for identification information as well as which academic levels you'd like your transcript to reflect.
A cartoon graduate filling out a form on her computer so she can get her transcript from her college.

If you’ve ever taken a college course, you have an academic record. If you need to prove your academic record, such as when you’re applying to a new school or for employment, you may be asked for an official transcript of those records.

If you’re wondering how to get your transcript, it typically involves a request form that only takes a few minutes to complete. Before you get started, it’s helpful to know what information you’ll need, common mistakes to avoid and changes in U.S. regulations coming this summer.

First: What is a Transcript?

Ashley Switzer, a senior assistant registrar for Student Records at SNHUA college transcript is a summary of your academic record. “It will show (your) program of study, courses, grades and credits earned per course,” said Ashley Switzer, a senior assistant registrar for Student Records at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

If it’s relevant to your situation, Switzer said a transcript can also include:

  • Academic achievements (e.g., President’s List, Latin Honors, etc.)
  • Grade point average
  • Transfer credits from other institutions
  • Whether your degree has been conferred

Official vs. Unofficial: What Does an Unofficial Transcript Look Like?

When asked for a transcript, you’ll likely hear the term “official” or “unofficial.” There’s a difference. An official transcript is one that’s sent directly from the school (or the school’s third-party vendor) to the school, employer or other organization that wants it.

An official transcript becomes “unofficial” if you intercept it on its way to the intended recipient. For instance, if you receive and then forward an electronic transcript or open the envelope of a paper transcript, that transcript will automatically be considered unofficial, Switzer said. At that point, it may not be accepted by the school or employer who wanted it, and you’ll have to begin the transcript request process again.

What to Know About Obtaining Your Transcript

Colleges and universities often work with third-party vendors to fulfill transcript requests. SNHU, for instance, partners with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) to provide transcript services, and students can order their transcripts for free online. Some schools charge fees for transcripts.

Information You’ll Need

An icon of a white-outlined checklist with three items checked offWhen you’re requesting your transcript, either through your school or its third-party vendor, Switzer said you’ll likely need the following information:

  • Approximate dates of attendance
  • Date of birth
  • Legal first and last name at the time of attendance
  • Student ID or social security number

You may also need to note which academic level(s) you’d like your requested transcript to reflect.

Timing

A clock on an blue backgroundYou’ll likely have two delivery options when requesting a transcript: digital or paper.

At SNHU, an e-transcript can be delivered within 30 minutes from the initial request, according to Switzer, if the system can match the information you provided to your records. Paper transcripts take approximately two business days to mail, plus the time it takes for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver them.

Mistakes to Avoid 

An icon indicating a process with three circles, two of which are checked off, connected by two linesTo ensure the transcript request process goes smoothly, Switzer recommended carefully filling out the form. She commonly sees students putting themselves down as the transcript recipient, which can lead to an official transcript becoming unofficial. She also sees students selecting the wrong academic levels, so be sure you know what you’re looking for.

The timing of your request is also important. If you want your transcript to reflect your most recent coursework, wait until your final grades are posted. And if you want the transcript to reflect the completion of your degree, wait until after your degree has conferred. At SNHU, that happens on the first day of the month after you’ve finished your final courses.

How Long Do Colleges Hold Transcripts?

Your academic history does not expire. “You can order a transcript today, tomorrow or 30 years from now,” Switzer said. 

So, even if you’re applying to colleges, it can be worthwhile to request transcripts from previous schools, no matter how long ago you attended them. The credits you’ve already earned may transfer.

If you're interested in going to a new school, learn more about how to transfer colleges and some important questions to ask.

Find Your Program

Are Colleges Withholding Transcripts for Non-payment?

If you’ve been denied your transcript after submitting a request, you’re not alone. Millions of people in the U.S. have “stranded credits,” according to research by Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit organization focused on access to higher education. The term “stranded credits” refers to credits that are being withheld due to unpaid balances, meaning those credits may not appear on a student’s transcript.

Deanna Bechard, the vice president of SNHU’s Office of the University Registrar“Holding a transcript was primarily used to assist with the collection of outstanding debt from students,” said Deanna Bechard, the vice president of SNHU’s Office of the University Registrar. Bechard has worked at SNHU for a decade now, following 29 years as a high school teacher.

“Holding transcripts (harms) the student experience in several ways, including when a student needs a transcript for a job or if the student is unable to continue their educational journey ... and needs to transfer or wants to get into a graduate or doctoral program,” Bechard said.

So, in 2021, SNHU officially changed its policy on transcript holds for non-payment — but it was, in most cases, already sending transcripts to those who needed them. 

“It was rare that we would not allow a transcript to go out,” Bechard said. “We normally would make an exception for the student if they raised a concern. We erred on the side that it was in the student’s best interest to have the documents."

Other institutions and U.S. states have been working toward this policy change in recent years, too, and soon, federal protection will be in place.

Late in 2023, the U.S. Department of Education announced new regulations that will ban schools from withholding transcripts for any credits in which a student received federal student aid. This regulation is expected to go into effect on July 1, 2024, and Inside Higher Ed reports that thousands of students will gain access to previously withheld transcripts and credits as a result.

Access to transcripts is not only beneficial to students and graduates, who can use them to help achieve their goals, but also to university staff. Staff can have productive conversations with students and graduates about payment plans instead of navigating difficult conversations.

Until the federal regulations are in place, Bechard recommends requesting a “Waiver of Policy” from your school if it’s still withholding transcripts for unpaid balances. “Hopefully, after July 1, (you) will not have obstacles to climb to obtain a transcript,” she said.

A degree can change your life. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Rebecca LeBoeuf Blanchette '18 '22G is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University, where she fulfills her love of learning daily through conversations with professionals across a range of fields. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a minor in Professional Writing from SNHU’s campus in Manchester, New Hampshire, and followed her love of storytelling into the online Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing at SNHU. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.