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At my school, I can request an official transcript to be emailed to me, and it comes addressed to me at the top, with a COPY watermark all over it. Since this doesn't go directly to the graduate school, would this count as an unofficial transcript? It contains the classes taken, my grades and so on.

One thing though, is that at my institution, first year grades don't 'count' per se, so they don't appear on the official transcript. Instead, these are all listed as SC [Satisfactorily Completed]. Would seeing this on the official transcript be odd to a grad school admissions committee?

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An "unofficial" transcript is generally considered anything that doesn't bear the "sign and seal" (or equivalent) of the issuing institution, as well as any reproduction of the official transcript (scan, photo, copy, etc.). So your "copy" would be sufficient as an unofficial transcript.

The question about "satisfactory completion" of first-year courses is not really a big deal. Different schools know that different universities have their own systems in deciding what does and does not get graded (some schools are pass/fail for a semester, others for a full year, others allow different courses across the four years to be graded that way). So long as you're not doing that with your major courses, there's probably little harm. Moreover, freshman year is the year where little stigma will be attached if letter grades aren't reported.

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You can send them the online printout as you describe but ensure that it's easily legible. Some institutions have other basic requirements such as showing your name and the institution's name, which are good to have if only to ease processing.

What will happen is that if you accept a position, only then the school will require that you send them an official transcript. This will be compared to detect fraud, and the final award of your degree verified. This means you will (ideally) only have to pay for one official transcript. Also, it minimizes clerical problems correlating transcripts otherwise sent directly.

To answer the second part of your question, special first year grading is not odd. Some well-known institutions, like MIT and JHU have similar policies. The transcript you send should match what is shown on an official transcript.

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Most universities allow an online version of the transcript that is 'unofficial' meaning that it doesn't have the necessary anti-tampering technologies (watermarks, raised insignia, etc) that can determine that the information (your grades and classes) contained are genuine.

As far as applications go, if you have to pay for a copy chances are, it is an 'official' transcript, if you can print it online from your university, it is 'unofficial'.

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