Documentation Requirements: Do you know what to ask for?

I have traveled the world to deliver credential evaluation workshops to different types of clients. Over the years, I have noticed that one of the most common issues amongst credential evaluators is the question of documentation requirements. If you are only dealing with domestic students the solution may be very simple, but handling hundreds of foreign credentials can be a challenge. They come from different educational systems with vastly different documentation practices. So, how can we develop proper documentation requirement policies? How do we decide what to ask for?

Before we ask the student for documents, we need to take into consideration two issues related to educational credentials:What is the most secure document we can ask the student to provide?

  • Document authenticity - What is the most secure document we can ask for that the student can provide?
  • Document status - Is the document official or unofficial?

Document authenticity

In today’s digital era we face many risks associated with paperless transmission of information. To ensure that you are working with the most reliable type of document possible you need to examine the existing documentation practices in different countries. To help you with the basic research here are the three major types of documentation practices in the world:

  1. Secured electronic documents, or sealed-envelope documents, sent directly by the issuing institution. In these cases, the official academic record is a replaceable document that can be issued by the institution upon student’s request. Canada, US-based systems, some European countries, Commonwealth countries, some African countries, e.g. Nigeria, some Latin-American countries etc. will issue official transcripts directly to the recipient. 
  2. Certified/attested copies issued to the student, occasionally also to the recipient. Here, the issuing institution prepares copies of official documents by adding original seals and signatures to the document. In these cases, the original document is an irreplaceable document which is issued solely to the student. Attested copies of that document are therefore used in lieu of the original. They  can be issued by the institution upon student’s request. Francophone systems in Africa, some Middle-Eastern countries etc. use this method most often.
  3. Original documents issued to the student. These are the most traditional documentation practices where both the degree/diploma and the student academic record are issued to the student upon graduation. These are irreplaceable documents that should always remain in the possession of the student. Obtaining an attested copy or a duplicate replacement document are generally difficult, though not impossible. Typically, you should expect these types of documents from students from the former Soviet Union, Indian universities, China and other countries with one-time issue practices.

What is key about these generalizations is the fact that it is not possible to apply the same standards to all students. It is important to consider the type of educational system they are coming from and the type of documents they are able to obtain. Keep in mind that documentation practices can change over time and sometimes different institutions in the same countries may use different practices. Some countries may also provide access to online verification portals where qualifications can be verified without the need for the original or attested document (You can check our Online Verification tag in the News).  When in doubt, investigate, ask the student, ask a colleague. 

Document status: When do we know that the transcript is official? 

Many institutions offer the possibility to generate an unofficial academic record from the student’s online account. Although students often submit these documents to us, we do not accept them as a substitute for the official transcript. The official document (diploma, transcript, etc.) needs to be generated by the appropriate body: registrar’s office, university secretariat, chancellor’s office etc. Documents internally issued by professors or faculty deans may not be acceptable, either. The student transcript should be generated by the same administrative unit of the institution that awards the degree. 

"Which document will prove that this person earned the degree?"Which documents to ask for?

Once we know whether we should ask the student for their original or attested documents (remember to return them to the student) or have the institution send the documents to you, it is time to determine which documents we need.

Proof of degree is the key document when the student claims to have graduated. The question we ask ourselves is “which document will prove that this person earned the degree?” The answer leads us to a number of types of documents: degrees, degree affidavits, archival excerpts, and student transcripts. 

Degree may take different forms. Sometimes it is a “wall diploma” you can frame and hang up in your office. Other times it is a diploma book in a hard cover with golden or silver lettering. In some countries, a more practical substitute for the wall diploma is a degree affidavit (Attestation de réussite in francophone systems, Diplomzeugnis in Germany, Certificate of Graduate in Japan etc.), provisional graduation certificate (Provisional Certificate in India), or an extract from the graduation archives (Acta de Grado from Latin-American institutions). All of these documents satisfy the proof of degree requirement. 

Student transcripts generally record the student’s performance in the program by reporting the subjects they studied, grades they earned, and possibly the academic credits/points they earned for each subject. Although many institutions worldwide will also confirm degree award and graduation on their transcripts, it may not be true for all educational systems. Before you accept a student transcript as your primary document, check whether it confirms the degree award. You will soon find out that former Soviet-system transcripts do not confirm the degree. You have to ask for the degree in conjunction with the transcript.

These are just some of the basics to keep in mind when forming your documentation requirement policies. You may also want to periodically review your requirements since rapidly changing technology is making new forms of documents available all the time. 

Though it may seem challenging at times, it is worth the effort to ensure the credential evaluation process is accurate, consistent, and fair to everyone involved.

Majka Drewitz is a Senior Evaluator and a Research & Knowledge Management Evaluator. She has been with ECE since 1999. Majka authored ECE® Insights: Evaluation Tools for Russian Credentials and co-authored the third volume of the ECE® publication Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

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