Field Notes: Common confusion surrounding international credit evaluations

November 13, 2018
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Eric Professional 2017 - Edited

"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Eric Shadle, Director of University Admissions at Loma Linda University

One of the most challenging and confusing responsibilities of admissions officers is handling evaluations of international transcripts.

An international transcript evaluation is a way to compare the achievements listed on an international document against US standards. Because significant variation exists between educational systems around the world, it is very important to have a consistent, objective analysis with which to assess applicants. An evaluation will determine the US equivalency for whatever international credential the applicant earned.  This is very beneficial in helping to satisfy prerequisite degrees.

Contracting for international evaluations

It is important to note that an international transcript evaluation does not provide details for course specific articulations and, to add to the confusion, most companies offer multiple levels of evaluation.  Below are considerations on three common challenges.

1. What documents are evaluated?

It can be challenging for applicants to obtain documents that meet our definition of “official”.  There is no general consensus for what counts as “official” and some evaluation companies will only evaluate what they consider to be official documents. Some companies are very stringent in their definition while others are happy to evaluate documents supplied directly from the applicant.  This can pose a problem for many international students because international institutions are frequently unwilling to mail documents overseas and, furthermore, some institutions will only ever issue one set of documents.

2. Considerations when choosing an evaluation partner

Once you understand why an evaluation is needed and that you are comfortable with the evaluation company’s method of collecting the documents, then you must decide which you are willing to accept.  Because there is so much variation between evaluation companies regarding their document requirements, I recommend reviewing several companies and selecting one or more which align with your institution’s requirements and values.


3. The timely sending of documents

The final step is also the most challenging, and it is an ongoing problem. How can applicants get their official documents from the issuing institution to the evaluation company?

The solution that we suggest to our applicants is to make a photocopy of the original set of documents and send it to the school along with a prepaid envelope (with tracking information) so the school can verify the documents, stamp or sign them, and send them directly to us. This eliminates any added expense for the international school (thus making them more likely to comply with a request to send documents) and satisfies our requirement for “official” documents.  

Due to the cost involved and the time it takes to complete this step, it is not uncommon for this process to extend beyond the application deadline -- which means the applicant will not be considered for the current application cycle. Sometimes we can move the application to the next term, but other times the program only starts once a year and the applicant must wait a full year before applying again.

Evaluations are essential

While having an international transcript evaluated is time consuming and expensive, it is also incredibly useful to admissions offices.  Evaluations give admissions offices the ability to consistently evaluate applicants, ensure the validity and integrity of documents, and to verify that they have completed all prerequisites, including prerequisite degrees.