Protocols during crisis: Can I use an unofficial transcript?

March 19, 2020
  • Admissions and Recruitment
  • covid-19
  • Displaced Students
worried student on steps with head in hands

Situations such as the current coronavirus crisis require action in addition to statements and recommendations.

AACRAO encourages institutions to adopt policies and protocols that support student access to education amidst the crisis, such as:

Flexibility with both domestic and international admission processes and deadlines that may be impacted by this COVID-19 event. Clear and open communication and reasonable accommodations within best practice guidelines are encouraged. You can find best practices to support students in crises in the AACRAO publication Student Displacement, which includes chapters both school closings and medical outbreaks on campus. In addition to the print edition, the book is available in kindle format for immediate delivery.

School closures may impact the ability of students to submit transcripts, or schools to send recommendation letters. There are domestic and international secondary and post-secondary institutions that have temporarily closed and/or moved to online instruction.

Be aware of national test suspensions and cancellations domestically and abroad. The College Board, which administers the SAT and AP examinations, maintains a list of testing site cancellations. ACT has not yet cancelled at this time, but check their website for current information. TOEFL and GRE Tests are administered by the Education Testing Service, otherwise known as ETS. Testing dates have been cancelled or postponed in several countries. They are maintaining an updated page on their website. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) has indicated suspension of some testing locations. The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT and Executive Assessment testing, has suspended testing in some locations and is providing updates on its website.

Take the Pledge for Education

Last April, AACRAO released Inclusive Admissions Policies for Displaced and Vulnerable Students, launching the AACRAO Pledge for Education. Those in the international education community are in a unique position to marshal the policies, practices, and resources needed to open the doors to higher education displaced and vulnerable persons.

Today’s crisis is another opportunity for the international education community to pledge its commitment to providing these pathways and sharing its stories. An example protocol is shared below. Join the Pledge now.




Draft of a protocol for cases in which documents are not available due to institution closures.


A. Applicants should provide the institution with a complete educational history, beginning with secondary (high) school graduation. They should include all enrollment at any higher education institution(s), whether the institution is currently closed or open, and include the following information for all institutions: 1. name of the institution(s) in the native language 2. the location(s), 3. the dates of attendance, 4. name(s) of any degrees, diplomas, or certificates they may have received, in the native language. NOTE: It is important to make it clear to applicants that they should disclose their full higher education history. Some students may omit items that they believe will be unavailable

B. If applicants have any official documentation in their possession, they can send copies of the documentation for review: transcript and diploma or degree certificate in the original language of issue, English translations if not officially issued in English.

C. The documents are only acceptable if they are sent by mail or courier unless they can be verified electronically at the source. (Documents sent by email should not be acceptable unless they can be verified electronically at the source, as detection of altered electronic documents is more difficult.)

D. The applicants must send an explanation to the institution that gives specifics about the closure of their specific institution. This can be sent by mail, courier or email. (Email will be easiest if they send Web links.)

E. The explanation should include information from official sources that confirms information about the closure of their institution specifically, such as URL’s for official online sources (university Web sites, government decrees, press releases, etc.), copies of any official communications they have received from the institution, etc.

F. The applicant must explain how they acquired the documentation they are planning to send to the institution. Sample text for request: Please send an explanation as to · how and when you requested the documentation from the institution, · how and when it was issued to you, · how and when you received the documentation from the institution, and · where you were at the time you received it from the institution.


1. Review each request on a case-by-case basis.

2. If it is decided to go ahead with the evaluation based on the documentation presented by the applicant, the evaluation should be considered “provisional”. Sample best practice language for use in student communications: a) The documentation was accepted directly from the applicant for review for a possible “provisional” evaluation, because the institution is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. b) Because the documentation was not received directly from the issuing institution, it cannot be authenticated at this time. c) Based on a careful review of the applicant’s copy and the university’s knowledge of and experience with official higher education credentials from XXX [name of country or institution], we have deemed the unofficial documents from the applicant as acceptable for a “provisional” evaluation. d) This “provisional” evaluation is valid only until the institution is reopened and it is once again issuing official student records. e) The university will require official documentation issued directly by the institution as soon as the institution has reopened and is once again issuing official student records.

3. These comments should remain on the evaluation/in the student’s file until the applicant has official records forwarded to the university. No changes to a “provisional” evaluation should be made without official documents received directly from an institution. Extended deadlines should make reasonable accommodations appropriate t the length of the crisis. It is incumbent upon the university to monitor the situation in the regions from which their students originate.

4. Institutions must make their own decisions about using a “provisional” evaluation for their admissions or other purposes.


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