Is PDF the Right Format for School Transcripts?

If you’ve ever applied to college, graduate school or certain jobs, you may remember the process of requesting high school or college transcripts as a rather lengthy one. First, you made a request by filling out a form and mailing it to an office at your old school. Then a mysterious administrative person pulled the records from a database and printed it out on official letterhead. Then he or she stuffed the document into a sealed envelope with a stamp over the seam to prove that the files were original and unaltered. Finally, the envelope was stamped and sent off in hopes that it would arrive at its destination, namely, your address.

Some schools, however, have found that using PDF software to prepare and send official transcripts helps streamline the process, reduce postage costs and ensure that the files are delivered to the right person in a fraction of the time. Just ask those who’s job it is to make sure transcripts are handled properly.

“When you send a regular paper transcript, we’re sending it with a postage stamp, so you don’t really have a tracking option,” says Shannon Williams, director of student services for the University of Texas – Arlington in her interview with The Shorthorn. “With a PDF you do, and it’s there within 15 minutes of your ordering it. For paper, it’s up to the general postmaster. We send out the paper transcripts the same day that they’re ordered, but it takes two or three days.”

There is a bit of concern however; some don’t believe that a PDF transcript will be viewed the same as a paper version. “It doesn’t arrive with that water mark and the seal and the do-not-open heft of the envelope,” Williams said. “I’d say that’s really a perception rather than a true drawback.”

Eliminating the negative perceptions

Williams’ last comment echoes the trouble many technical solutions face. Yet if you look beyond the surface, it’s easy to see how PDF software not only eliminates the perceived drawbacks but also goes even further when it comes to authenticity, confidentiality and security.

One of the hallmark features of PDF software is the ability to create documents that the preparer may sign digitally. While most PDF editor software applications allow the documents creator to insert an electronic signature, the digital signature speaks more to the integrity of the document.

Instead of relying on a watermark, which people can forge, the digital signature uses an algorithm to create a hash. If someone was to modify the contents of the document in any way after the signature is applied, the hash will not match up, thereby nullifying the signature. Even the most skilled act of forgery cannot manipulate the document and still proved a valid signature.

Beyond protecting the authentication integrity of the transcript in a way that watermarks and “do not open” stamps cannot, PDF software helps to protect the confidentiality of the student as well. Transcripts provide a wealth of information regarding the student: their name, social security number, address, date of birth and even potential interests, based upon their course work. An envelope marked Official Transcripts makes it easy for someone to identify these as they make their way through the mail or even as they sit in an office or records room somewhere.

Using the encryption capabilities built into PDF software protects the document and the information it contains from unauthorized viewers. Students and job applicants can feel safer knowing this will help prevent their personal information from falling into the wrong hands.

Using PDF versions of official transcripts is becoming more the norm, and as schools and businesses begin to address stricter expectations when it comes to confidentiality and record keeping, tools such as PDF software have become a more important part of the process.


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