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The Truth About Transcripts: What Matters and What Doesn’t

From those fun freshman seminars to for-credit internships, the official transcript is a record of all of our academic accomplishments as undergraduates. Sealed in a confidential school envelope, we’ve always been under the impression that the transcript holds as much significance as our actual diploma. But does it? Here, HC dives into some common concerns you may have about your transcript, to find out which ones really matter. Read on!
Transcripts 101
Hofstra University Career Center Executive Director Fred Burke explains, “Transcripts are used by employers as verification that you received your diploma.” This means some companies may ask for an official copy of the document when you’re applying to a job. This is especially common for career fields like higher education or applications for graduate or law school. “More academically-focused industries will definitely request a transcript,” he said.
Many questions and concerns arise when dealing with transcripts, so HC surveyed the experts for a general consensus on the following issues:
QUESTION: Does it matter if you took the least number of courses possible one semester?
ANSWER: Yes. Unless you had a special circumstance like an illness or family-related problem, doing the bare minimum isn’t exactly an attractive quality in a job candidate.
QUESTION: Do employers care what you minored in?
ANSWER: Most employers like to see that your major and minor complement one another somehow. “As a wildlife conservation biology minor, I have been told by my professors and advisers that this is a great way to impress employers,” says Nicole Leporacci, a junior at University of Rhode Island. This means that you have extra valuable skills to bring to the table. If you’re in the communications field, something in the liberal arts is a great supplement to your study of focus because it will you show you know something to communicate about!
QUESTION: Do employers care if you took all of your classes in your major as opposed to different areas?
ANSWER: Taking all of your classes in your major shows that you’re dedicated and interested in your field of choice. However, employers are interested in diversity, especially in the liberal arts. So opt to take other classes that supplement your learning. For example, if you’re a political science major, you should take some economics. Remember, they’re looking for candidates with a specialty, but also a well-rounded knowledge of the world around them.

QUESTION: How should you balance out a low GPA if a company sees your transcript?
ANSWER: A GPA is an indicator of the work you will perform, so if yours is low you will certainly want to make up for it. “Students who are involved in clubs, athletics, and other organizations really give employers marketable soft skills. They’re able to work on projects, be in a team, and offer leadership skills,” Burke says. So try to play this up during your interview to balance out your less impressive grades.
QUESTION: How do you know which courses will look good on your transcript?
ANSWER: If you mastered a series of classes that progressively get harder and focus on your major, this is definitely appealing on a transcript. (e.g., Journalism 1 à Journalism 170, etc.). These should be balanced out by diverse electives.
QUESTION: If there’s something weird on your transcript, like one very low grade, should you try to explain it?
ANSWER: Don’t mention it unless they do. Burke explains that employers may forget that many students work their way through school and other issues arise that may conflict with your performance. Be prepared with a well thought-out explanation just in case it comes up.
QUESTION: What’s more important: Taking difficult courses or getting good grades?
ANSWER: Neither is more important than the other, it’s about finding a balance between the two. Your transcript should show that you have challenged yourself, but clearly succeeded in your major field of study. Avoid going to extremes (loading up on either all difficult or all easy courses) and figure out a way that you can do both. Remember, your grades are especially important for applications to graduate programs.
Though your transcript should be your focus during your undergraduate career, be mindful that not everyone will be asking for it. General Manager of Zales in Wrentham, Massachusetts, Stephanie Delman, agrees. “After I graduated from Rutgers University, none of my employers requested my transcript. Now that I am in a managerial position, I know firsthand that we hire those with experience and a well composed cover letter and resume,” she says.
Hofstra University ’09 graduate Delia Paunescu has freelanced for Hearst Magazines Digital Media and is now the Assistant Editor at Vision Monday Magazine. “I’ve never had an employer ask me for a transcript. I do tell them my GPA though,” she said.
“Some employers do use the GPA as criteria for an applicant,” Burke says. However, communication, leadership, and people skills are often times more important.  “You could have a 4.0 GPA but if you can’t articulate yourself well, they may go with the person with the 3.2,” he says.
Fred Burke, Executive Director of the Hofstra University Career Center
Delia Paunescu, Assistant Editor at Vision Monday Magazine
Nicole Leporacci, Junior Marine Biology Major at the University of Rhode Island
Stephanie Delman, General Manager at Zales

Gennifer is the Branded Content Specialist for Her Campus Media. In her role, she manages all sponsored content across platforms including editorial, social, and newsletters. As one of HC's first-ever writers, she previously wrote about career, college life, and more as a national writer during her time at Hofstra University. She also helped launch the How She Got There section, where she interviewed inspiring women in various industries. She lives in New York City.