A Guide to Selecting a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Service

June 17, 2009

This guide asks important questions that should be answered when pursuing the services of a credentials evaluation provider.

Institutional Responsibility

Colleges and universities that admit students with educational backgrounds from outside of the United States need to have trained admissions staff and adequate resources to evaluate foreign educational credentials accurately. See: NAFSA's "Principles for the Admission of Foreign Students" and ADSEC's "Core Competencies." While credential evaluation is typically done in-house, it can also be outsourced, entirely, or on an "as needed" basis.

When searching for and selecting an outside credential evaluation service provider it is important to have your institutional needs clearly defined and to seek service providers whose capabilities match those needs. This document offers guidelines for service provider selection.

General Guidelines

There is no governmental authority that approves or certifies foreign educational credential evaluation agencies in the United States. Two associations Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE), and National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) do have their own Codes of Conduct, and the American Translators Association (ATA) has a certification process for language translators. Credential evaluation services offered by members of AICE and NACES are guided by their respective Codes of Conduct.

In general, translation services only translate documents from one language to another without applying interpretative judgment, while credential evaluation services apply informed judgments to the interpretation of credentials and determination of the equivalency of educational programs, degrees awarded, and/or grades achieved to international and/or U.S. standards.

Choosing a foreign educational credential evaluation service is similar to choosing other professional service providers. Criteria for choosing a provider begin with whether the provider can meet the specific needs of your institution.

Further selection criteria typically include a number of general factors such as level of preparedness (knowledge, i.e., depth, breadth, and how current), performance (how they do the job and the timeliness and quality of their output) and price. Intangible factors also include their flexibility, and the ease with which you can do business with them.

Research Options

  • There currently is no single, comprehensive source of all foreign credential evaluation service providers.
  • Search for providers on the World Wide Web. Using search strings such as "foreign credential evaluation service" or "educational credential evaluators" will yield a number of firms and associations.
  • You may be able to determine from information on their websites what areas of expertise and experience a credential evaluator has and whether there might be a match with your institution's needs.
  • Talk to colleagues at institutions you feel would have similar institutional needs, or who have experience in working with evaluation services. Ask for recommendations.
  • Contact evaluation services or organizations directly. They usually have a staff member who assists in establishing relationships with prospective clients and answering questions about the services they offer.
  • Ask service providers for a list of customers whom you can contact. Talk to several, particularly institutions whose needs you feel might be similar to your own institution's needs.
  • Compare the responses and information received from each of the credential evaluation providers contacted to the needs of your institution. If anything is unclear or more information is needed, contact the provider(s) again.
  • If you need an outside opinion, engage an unbiased international admission consultant or an experienced colleague to assist in the process.

Questions to Ask Providers

  • What kinds of evaluation services does the provider offer?

    For what purposes do they evaluate, (e.g., secondary, college/university, English as a Second Language, professional licensure, and/or immigration)? Do they specialize? Does the organization provide printed information about the scope of its services, procedures used for requesting an evaluation, and evaluation policies?
  • Is the provider affiliated with any organizations/associations supporting international education?

    Membership may include but not be limited to any of the following: AACRAO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers), AICE (Association of International Credential Evaluators), AMIDEAST (America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc.), ATA (American Translation Association), EAIE (European Association of International Education), NACES (National Association of Credential Evaluation Services), and NAFSA (NAFSA: Association of International Educators).
  • How does the provider's evaluation staff get trained and stay current?

    Training may include, but need not be limited to, in-house training, participation in professional conferences, participation in workshops and training programs offered by professional organizations, research on country educational systems, etc. What opportunities does the staff have for professional development? Are evaluators knowledgeable about the credentials which the institution needs evaluated?
  • What reference materials and resources are available to support evaluation?

    Does the organization have a library of standard references in international education with an emphasis on credentials evaluation? Does the library contain resource material on the countries/credentials that your institution commonly needs evaluated? How current are the resources in the library? How is the library developed and maintained? How often are references updated? Does the organization conduct primary research? How and how often?
  • How long will it take to get credentials evaluated?

    What is the standard turn-around time required for a provider to complete an evaluation? Are there periods during the year when the processing time may be faster/slower than the standard? Does the turn-around time meet the needs of the institution?
  • What are the evaluation processing fees?

    Are there different services/different levels of service available? How do the fees compare to the financial resources of the institution's applicants? How do the fees compare with those of other evaluation services? How and by whom are fees to be paid? What are the terms of payment (e.g., upon receipt of invoice, 30 days, etc.)? If the institution needs information that is not usually part of an evaluation agency's standard evaluation report, how should the report be customized? Are there extra fees for customization?
  • What documents does a provider require to complete an evaluation?

    On what type of documentation is an evaluation based? Does the provider have a list of specific documents for specific countries/levels of study, etc? What are the provider's policies regarding photocopies, original, or official credentials? How do the organization's documentation policies compare with the institution's policies on documentation required for domestic applicants?
  • How are questions regarding authenticity of credentials resolved?

    What is the organization's policy and procedure for handling cases in which the authenticity of a foreign credential submitted for evaluation is questioned? What if the document cannot be verified? Are standard fees inclusive of handling inquiries or are extra fees involved? How do these policies compare with the institution's policies on documentation required for domestic applicants?
  • Are translations handled in-house or outsourced?

    What are the organization's policies on translations of documents issued in languages other than English?
  • What evaluation standards and methodologies are used?

    What standards/methodologies and guidelines does the organization follow in evaluating credentials? Are they in line with the institution's policies for evaluation?
  • Is there an appeal process?

    What is the provider's appeal policy if an applicant or the institution disagrees with or has questions about the results of the evaluation?
  • What is the policy on records retention?

    How long are documents and evaluations retained by the provider? Is this policy consistent with the institution's policies on retention of records? May requests for additional copies of an evaluation be made by the student or institution at a later date? What is the procedure?
  • What evaluation report detail is provided?
    How does the provider present its evaluation (written report, other format)? Does the report include all of the information the institution needs? Is the format easy to work with? Is it possible to have the report sent by fax, e-mail, Web? Many evaluation services will provide an information packet that includes a sample evaluation report.
  • What quality control process is used?

    How does the provider ensure quality control of its evaluation reports? If the entity preparing the evaluation is an individual, what measures are employed to ensure quality control? How do the organization's or individual's quality control methods compare to those employed by the institution? Can a quality control report be provided covering the past twelve months?
  • What customer service policies exist?

    How does the provider respond to clients' needs (timeliness, manner of response)? Is the organization's philosophy of customer service in line with that of the institution?
  • What references can be provided?

    What other clients has the provider served?

Questions a Provider May Ask the Institution

  • For what purpose do the foreign credentials need to be evaluated?

    Examples: Admission to freshman class, transfer, graduate, professional, English language studies, or determination of transfer credit.
  • What information does the institution need to know about the foreign education completed? What information must the completed evaluation report contain?

    Examples: Recognition status of foreign institution; level of education completed; U.S. degree comparability; field of study; courses; credits or units; individual grades or overall grade average; course content.
  • If the institution needs information that is not usually part of an evaluation agency's standard evaluation report, how should the report be customized? There may be an extra fee for this service.
  • On what type of a schedule are evaluations needed?

    Examples: Rolling, batch, varying, sporadic?
  • What is the turn-around time required by the institution for completion of an evaluation? Does it change at certain times of the year?
  • Who at the institution will function as the coordinator or manager to liaison with the evaluation service(s) chosen?
  • How will the institution want to receive the evaluation report? Will an applicant be required to submit the official foreign documents on which the evaluation is based? What other kinds of documentation will the institution require in addition to the official foreign documents, if any?

Institutional Policy Questions

  • Who will pay for the evaluation? The applicant? The institution? Shared cost?
  • Who will "own" the evaluation, the institution or the applicant whose credentials are evaluated?
  • Will the evaluation be sent directly to the institution or accepted from the student? What constitutes an "official" document when it comes to evaluation reports?
  • Who at the institution will be responsible for interpreting the evaluation? How will the responsible person(s) be trained to work with the evaluation?

Maintaining Institutional Quality of Student Service

The most important criterion for choosing credential evaluation services is whether the services provided fit the needs of the institution and offer the same level of student service that the institution's Admissions Office provides.