The ultimate guide to designing a high school transcript

Remember the last time you put together a resume for a job search?

You probably knew that you needed to get the dates and job descriptions perfect. But if you were smart, you also agonized over the document’s overall look, making sure the end result was as appealing to the eye as possible.

It makes sense to think about transcripts the same way.

Yes, transcripts are technically official lists of courses and grades, and they can be very simple and still get the job done.

But they’re also an integral part of a package that markets a high school student to a prospective university. The way they’re laid out and presented can say a lot about the bigger picture of the student’s interests and work ethic, and about your school’s professionalism and priorities.

Thankfully, you’ll just need to create a few beautiful transcript design templates for your entire graduating class to put their best foot forward.

Here’s everything you need to know to make your transcript look great.

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Transcript Design Goals

Having a great transcript design doesn’t necessarily mean you need a lot of flourishes or creativity. In fact, the best designs are often the ones that make the information available as simply and clearly as possible.

The goal should be to give transcripts these characteristics:

  • Easy to read. Of course, the content of the actual transcript (course names, descriptions and grades) are crucial. But if the transcript is designed poorly, that information won’t be easy to digest. The last thing you want is for the admissions staff who review the document to start the process feeling frustrated.
  • Easy to skim. The first thing admissions officials will do is glance at the document as a whole to get a sense of the student’s and find the most important information. A good design allows them to do that quickly and easily.
  • Professional. When the admissions staffer scans that transcript for the first time, they get the sense that that the administrators that put it together know what they’re doing and care a lot about their students.
  • Distinctive. While this isn’t the most important characteristic (and you certainly don’t want to go overboard), there’s something to be said for giving your school’s documents a look that’s uniquely yours. It might make a better impression and pave the way for name recognition for other college applicants.

To accomplish these goals, you’ll need to assess each of the following factors.

Header and Text Style

Typographical hierarchy is a best practice for all kinds of design, and transcripts are no different. Choosing consistent text styles is the best way to direct the viewer’s eye and indicate which information should get the most attention.

Generally, all you need will be three styles: a headline style for the name of the student or school, a slightly smaller subhead style for each main section of the transcript (usually organized by semester or year, as we’ll discuss later) and a standard “body” text style for the rest of the content (class names, descriptions, grades, etc.).

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Bold or italic formatting can be useful within the body text to emphasize things like column labels, honors, or overall GPA. But using more styles than that can be distracting. Stay consistent and use the same styles throughout the transcript.

As you decide which fonts and sizes for each text style work best, do it with the understanding that the top priority is legibility. The font should never distract from the actual content. Designers suggest fonts like Georgia and Calibri as good bets for professional use.

Organization and Shape

If you’re a high school administrator, you’re probably aware that some colleges have requirements about how the information on the transcript should be organized. Specifically, some require that courses be organized by semester.

Keep that in mind as you design your template, but consider that other organizational methods (such as by subject or year) might be a better fit for your school or even for a particular student or educational path.

Regardless of how you decide to organize your transcripts, there are a few ways to keep your document easy on the eyes:

  • The text throughout the entire document should generally be aligned left, with all the text in each column lining up evenly.
  • Indentation can be helpful, but only if used sparingly. I’d suggest only using one additional line of indentation.
  • There should be a nice balance of white space to text, and a sense of balance throughout the whole document. Ideally, the sides of your transcript will mirror each other.
  • Sections should be as uniform as possible, and each piece of information should clearly belong to a section. In between rows, columns and sections, simple dividing lines can be helpful.

Although what looks best can be a bit subjective, you’ll know you have a great design when people who look at it can get the main information (student name, school, GPA) and know where to find the rest within a few moments.

Length

Transcripts should be kept to a single page if possible, for the same reasons that job-hunters are often advised to keep their resume to one page. A single page is simpler and easier to handle for admissions officers, who are often dealing with multiple documents for each student.

Another benefit of a one-page transcript is that it forces schools to be a little more discerning about including only the most important content.

Branding Details

Here are some more details that can make your transcripts stand out and look professional and distinctive:

  • Logo – Adding your school’s logo can be a great touch as long as it’s not too large or distracting. Your graphic designer may have given you several versions of the logo or logo elements. You can try different shapes to see which one works the best.
  • Colors – This isn’t the time to get too creative, but color can look great on the school logo or to accent dividing lines or important information. Use color sparingly.
  • Paper and Printing – If you’re mailing a physical copy, have it printed professionally (no spotty home printers!) on high-quality paper.
  • Mailing – When a transcript comes unfolded in an 8×11 envelope, it makes a great impression on admissions officers.

None of these details on their own will make or break your transcript, but together they send a clear message that your high school is competent and takes records seriously.

Getting Started

Most high school administrators don’t feel comfortable starting from scratch when it comes to designing a transcript. In most cases, it’s better (and quicker) to get started with some help, usually from a professional designer, an online template, or a professional software program.

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Design is a powerful way to send a message loud and clear without having to say a word. A beautiful layout and clear content will make the case that your school provides a top-tier education, so take it seriously.

About the Author:

Software developer, homeschool graduate, entrepreneur, and founder of Transcript Maker, the high school transcript app.

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