A Breakdown of Your Academic Transcript

As you start applying to colleges, there are a number of materials you will need to present, one of which is your academic transcript. You open your transcript…only to be met with confusion. Deciphering your academic transcript can be confusing, but once you understand what each component means, your academic transcript can be quite a powerful tool for self-reflection!


An academic transcript is typically divided into semesters. Identifying information for you and your school is generally located at the top of the transcript, with the terms you have completed—including courses, grades, and credits—beneath.

Your class information may be displayed as follows: subject, course number, and title. The subject and course number match listings in the class catalog. This is typically the information you utilize during registration, and it is the official designator for the course. The class title (“Introduction to Sociology”) is its descriptive label.

Your grade and the course’s credits follow. This varies at each school, but it often includes the number of credits attempted, the number of credits earned, and your grade (in either letter or number format). 

Under each semester will be your GPA (grade point average) for that term. If you made the Dean’s List or otherwise received honors, this may be noted. At the very bottom of the transcript is your cumulative (or combined) GPA for all the terms you have completed at that school. The bottom of your academic transcript may also contain the certificates or degrees you have completed, as well as the term in which you completed them. 


Understanding your grades and GPA can occasionally be difficult, especially if you are not familiar with the numerical 4-point system. In general, an A or A+ equates to a perfect 4.0, while a B is a 3.0, and a C is a 2.0.

While there is some variance within this model (i.e. certain schools will identify a 4.0 as a 98 or above, while others may be more lenient), you can generally refer to this chart to determine what your grade in a class is.

Rarely, you may also note a different grade, such as P/NP, W, or I, on your transcript. Generally speaking, P is Pass, while NP is No Pass, and these are awarded for non-graded courses. W usually indicates a withdrawal from a class (after the official drop date), while I is an incomplete. Once finished, an I will often change to a more traditional grade. Your course syllabi may explain these sorts of grades to you, but information can also typically be obtained from your registrar or class catalog.

Your term GPA is the average of all the grades you received in a term (based on how many credits each was—a five-credit course is worth more than a one-credit class), while your cumulative GPA is the average of your grades from all your semesters at the school. Here is some usful information on how to balance grades, a social life and sleep in college.


Now that you understand your academic transcript, you can use this valuable tool for self-reflection and evaluation. Review it, and look for themes. Do you notice that courses at a certain time of day generally benefit from higher grades? Are there subject areas with which you consistently struggled? Do you see terms where circumstances in your life (such as family issues or your health) impacted your GPA? When you can view your transcript in this way, it allows you to make changes for future terms and to become a more successful student. If you find this process difficult, an academic mentor or a tutor can guide you through it. This is some great information on how extracurricular activities boost college success.

While transcripts can be confusing, they can also be a very useful way of gaining important information about your studies—and yourself as a student.