When International Applicants Don't Have Documents

Colleges need to consider policies to help students in need, says new analysis from AACRAO.

March 25, 2019

Colleges that recruit applicants from around the world grapple with a range of issues on how to verify transcripts and credentials from outside the United States. Colleges want to be sure that the applicants they admit are qualified to complete their course work, and the myriad ways different countries record educational attainment creates complications. But what about international applicants who -- because they are refugees or because their countries are in turmoil -- cannot produce documentation of the sort colleges normally require?

A new analysis from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers offers guidance. The analysis notes that "displaced and vulnerable students" are already part of the population seeking an education in the United States, in some cases only temporarily. As global events evolve, such students will be coming from different countries and regions, but are likely to continue to be a part of the global student population.

AACRAO recommends that colleges consider how formal a policy they want on such students, and check on who at the institution needs to sign off on such a policy. While individual circumstances may require a case-by-case approach, the report says, some guidelines may be useful, especially to demonstrate to accreditors and government officials that the institution is admitting only eligible students.

Among AACRAO's recommendations:

  • Explain to applicants the consequences of applying without documents. It is important for applicants to understand that this may make it more difficult to be admitted.
  • Get detailed explanations from applicants of their circumstances, and why they cannot produce documentation.
  • Take steps to corroborate what applicants say. A college is likely more justified in being flexible if it can show that it verified that someone is from a country in disarray, or from a country where officials will not provide credentials to those from political, religious or ethnic groups.

Throughout the process, college officials need to show they understand the circumstances of those seeking admission, the analysis says.

"Keep in mind that for many vulnerable and displaced persons this may be one of the final steps in a very long and harrowing journey where they have met with much hardship and rejection," the analysis says. "They may have already experienced frustration in understanding 'the system' and who can help them. Remember, you will be asking them to share their story and documentation with you without making any promises. You must earn their trust and confidence."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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