Caitlin Ditto's placement on the wait list at one of her top-choice colleges wasn't her fault: Her high school guidance counselor had failed to fax in her transcript on time.
The Oregon, Ill., native had sought admission to Vanderbilt University, but she was unable to track whether her transcript was sent as the 2010 deadline for regular admission neared.
"If it was something I had more control of, it wouldn't have happened," says Ditto, now a rising junior at Northwestern University.
Electronic transcript initiatives in several states could help give students that control. Kentucky education officials unveiled a program in late July that will allow students to send their transcripts electronically and monitor their delivery - all at no charge.
Although high schools in some states have used e-transcripts since the 1990s, the movement has accelerated in recent years as states build data systems containing student information, says John Stewart, a committee member at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO).
"It's just making it almost impossible to deal with paper transcripts," Stewart says.
The uptick in e-transcripts also may be prompted by new state policies that require multiple measures to determine the level of courses students will take in college, including grade-point average, says Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States.
Since 2007, high schools in about 20 states have been operating under initiatives that require transcripts to be sent electronically, according to AACRAO.
Although proponents cite many e-transcript benefits - ranging from convenience to speed of delivery - a lack of financial support or standard guidelines can inhibit the digital transition in some states, education experts say.
"It all comes down to resources and time," says Jennifer Dahlquist, vice president and chief financial officer at the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), a regional group that assists states in advancing higher education goals. High schools in eight MHEC member states currently use e-transcripts.
Kentucky's system was prompted by a desire to streamline the college admissions process and improve college access for seniors, says Tommy Floyd, chief of staff for the Kentucky Department of Education.
"It's a very high-stress time for a lot of high school students," Floyd says. "This just seemed like a great step to reduce some of those frustrations."
The system will enable students to track the transmission of their transcripts and forward letters of recommendation. By year's end, the program should be available to students in public and private high schools.
The Kentucky initiative also is likely to ease the college application process for admissions officials because the transcripts will be identically formatted, says Aaron Thompson, senior vice president for academic affairs at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.
To protect against security breaches, e-transcript companies do not analyze the content of transcripts or retain them once they have been sent to colleges, says Susan West, a spokeswoman for Parchment, an e-transcript vendor servicing eight state initiatives.
Kimberly Railey, USA TODAY