Higher Education Innovation In Action

The Future of the Academic Transcript – Do Employers Ask for Your Transcript?

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist Jun 11, 2018

Do employers ask students for their academic transcript?  The answer is, it depends.  The traditional academic transcript contains information employers may be interested in knowing about a potential employee: graduation/degree verification, grade point average, specific course grades, honors status, and enrollment history to name a few.  But some employers obtain this information in different ways.

Employers constantly seek the best candidates they can find, and students are always seeking internship and employment opportunities that match their career goals.  But practices such as social media and ePortfolios seem to be constantly changing.  Technology has a profound impact on recruiting strategies with the increasing use of social network sites such as LinkedIn©, Indeed©, Monster©, CareerBuilder©, and many others to contact and screen candidates.

It is interesting to listen to students as they engage in the job application cycle.  Perceptions are quite varied, ranging from wishful thinking to completely accurate.   Here are some representative statements that staff in your career center have likely heard from students:

  • Almost everyone has wanted to at least see my unofficial transcript.  I've never had anyone bug me about an official transcript before I started work, although I’m not sure what to expect if hired.
  • In a large company, the hiring manager doesn't verify GPA.  That is what HR departments are for.
  • How can an employer look at just my GPA and make an informed decision?  My University is one of the most selective schools in the country.  If my GPA is lower than another candidate’s GPA from a less-selective school, that doesn’t make the other person a better candidate.
  • My employer sent me a letter-of-offer that included three requirements: complete a drug test; authorize them to conduct a background check; and send my official transcripts.  I guess they wanted to make sure I wasn’t lying on my resume.
  • My personal experience is employers don't generally care about your transcripts.  Out of a dozen positions, only one employer has ever asked me for my transcripts.
  • The more competitive the position, the more likely it is they will ask you for your transcripts.  But they will probably never ask you after your first job - so live through it now, and you will be fine.
  • My adviser recommended that I have a transcript available for each of my interviews.  Official transcripts cost $8.00.I hope they will accept an unofficial transcript which is free.  After all, there is no difference.
  • The employer can call the school and ask for your GPA, but they won't get an answer.  Due to privacy laws, schools can only confirm your dates of attendance and if you received a degree.  So, you can let your school know that when the employer calls they can release your grades.  (Isn’t this one the Registrars’ nightmare!)
  • One of my potential employers requested official transcripts from all schools I attended.  I found this peculiar because I didn't think that most employers asked for transcripts; only federal agencies, school districts, and law firms need this information.
  • Many employers request transcripts to prevent the hiring of people with fraudulent degrees and college graduates who have inflated their GPA on their resume.  If the job requires a degree and you were hired because of your course of study, it is a legitimate request.  If you try and cite invasion of privacy, your application will end up in the deleted file.  If you are hired and do not submit the requested documents, you will be fired.

This last comment is representative of today’s environment.  The down-side of self-reported resumes and portfolios is that not all applicants are honest, and some information may be embellished.  We have all read the headline making news stories where an individual in a high-level position was exposed as not having the credentials or experience they claimed.  For every one of these headlines, there are hundreds of other cases where employment decisions have been reversed because of unverified credentials. 

Further compounding this is the continuing presence of Diploma Mills; those illegitimate “colleges or universities” that provide degrees for a fee with no required course work.  Diploma Mills are often difficult for employers to detect since, for a fee, the Diploma Mill will provide transcript and diploma credentials, letters of recommendation, and verification service by Web or phone. 

And, accredited/legitimate colleges and universities unintentionally contribute to this problem; how would an employer hiring few college graduates really know what the actual transcript from XYZ University looks like?  

So, what’s an employer to do?

Ultimately the employer seeks to hire candidates capable of performing the job.  Not all jobs require a college degree in a designated field of study; the “college experience” may be sufficient.  Self-reported metrics such as GPA, major/minor, enrollment in selected courses, the number of enrolled-semesters, and even graduation may be perfectly acceptable.  However, if it is important enough for the job description to read “degree in XYZ is required” then it follows that a non-repudiated verification of the degree is necessary.

The long-standing recommendation is that employers should accept official transcripts directly from the school, or from trusted service providers, like Credential Solutions, working on the school’s behalf.  This direct approach provides proof of both the transcript’s origin and integrity.

Accepting transcripts directly from the student should be avoided.  This approach opens the possibility of fraudulent representation of the record.  A common approach is for the originating school to place the original record in a sealed envelope, enabling the student to deliver to document to the employer.   Sometimes the document is marked “issued to student”.  Regardless, this approach is at best marginally more secure and the fundamental possibility of fraud remains.

There is a growing technology trend enabling students to present validated eDocuments on their social media pages.  Using PESC approved standards, some schools are providing their students with eDocuments (transcripts, diplomas, certificates, verifications, etc.) that have a dual benefit.  The student can include these verifiable documents on their social media pages presenting themselves as a capable, well-rounded, and qualified candidate.  And the potential employer is provided the capability to validate the credential as original and unaltered.

The need to maintain truth, honesty, and integrity is an undiminished constant.  In an ever-changing technology world, new opportunities emerge that enable improvement to both the academic credential itself as well as the delivery and presentation of the credential.