This is the third post in a series on the National Transcript Guide for Use in Canadian Postsecondary Institutions. (See the first post here. See the second post here.) In that document is the definition of a transcript and the Basic Guiding Principles. Basic Guiding Principle #2 says,
The official character of the transcript is determined by the criteria of both the sending and the receiving institution.
In one sense this says that the officialness of the transcript is determined by my university and your university. In other words, it is official because I say so and you say so. But it is a little more involved than that. And the fact that I make up words such as officialness should cause you to wonder…
The more complex meaning here is that our universities have policies about official and unofficial transcripts. Official and unofficial transcripts each have their place and use. Our policies are what determines whether or not a transcript is official or unofficial, and they determine the place and uses for each. My university – Trinity Western University – says that our official transcripts are printed on special transcript paper, have the signature of the Registrar and other specific identifying marks and security features on the paper. We tell students that official transcripts are sent directly to other universities and institutions (such as the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia, or the American Bar Association). This is an example of the sending institution determining the official character of the transcript.
The receiving institution also determines the officialness of transcripts. At my own university, we consider transcripts to be official only when they are sent directly from institution to institution (e.g., UBC to TWU). We do not consider transcripts to be official when they are issued to a student who then submits them to us. Often, universities make this more obvious by printing on the transcript or the envelope (or both) “Issued to Student”. That serves as a heads-up notice to the receiver, “Hey, the student had a chance to modify this document, so you should not assume it is official.” Universities and colleges that accept these documents as official do risk undermining the official character of the transcript, although for certain purposes, this may be acceptable. Ultimately, the receiving institution can do whatever it likes, as long as they are aware of the risks (one of which might be a stern glare from a slightly aged and jaded Registrar who shall go unnamed), but most understand the importance of upholding the official character of the transcript.
Unofficial transcripts serve a purpose too, but that’s for a different blog post sometime in the future.