Interim pass/fail grade policy raises graduate school admissions concerns
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to create change in education programs around the world, UH is among the numerous colleges around the nation that have implemented optional pass/fail grading policies.
UH is allowing students to opt into its pass/fail grading system for most Spring 2020 sessions and the summer 2020 mini session.
While the choice of a Satisfactory/No Credit Reported COVID-19 (S/NCR) designation on a course-by-course basis may provide struggling students with short-term relief, it is unclear how having this on a transcript will be perceived in graduate and professional school admissions in the coming years.
“Admissions committees will have to carefully consider the entire transcript and make adjustments for the fact that the Spring 2020 semester will provide information on academic progress in a different way due to the … COVID-19 pandemic,” said Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Sarah Larsen.
Interim Undergraduate Grade Policy
The Interim Undergraduate Grade Policy announced March 25 lets students balance the demands of their academic course load with the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The policy was designed specifically to provide you with the flexibility to choose a course-by-course no-risk alternative grading option to meet your needs and goals,” said Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Paula Myrick Short in a news release.
The policy will allow students to choose between a letter grade or a Satisfactory/No Credit Reported (S/NCR) grading scheme for each course they’re enrolled in. The deadline for students to make this decision is set for May 18 at 5 p.m., 12 days after the end of finals for the regular session.
The selection of the S/NCR grading scheme for a course won’t impact a student’s GPA. While courses that receive an S are counted as passing with credit, courses that receive an NCR will not be considered for credit and will not be counted as a withdrawal.
Future admissions concerns
The opportunity to pick and choose the course for which they will receive a letter grade allows students to control the semester’s impact on their GPA.
Some undergraduate students are anxious about how the adapted letter scheme will be perceived by admissions committees in graduate and professional schools.
After experiencing a difficult switch to online classes, electrical engineering senior Trey Barker plans to take advantage of the S/NCR grading scheme option this semester but thinks it may raise questions in future graduate school applications.
“Given the situation and explanation, I think almost every school would be fine with it,” Barker, who plans to pursue a master’s in electrical engineering, said.
As higher education is upended by the spread of the novel coronavirus, universities are emphasizing the holistic evaluation process and that the Spring 2020 semester will be viewed in light of a student’s academic record as a whole.
Some colleges, including Northeastern University, have issued statements emphasizing the holistic nature of the graduate and professional school admissions processes to assuage concerns.
For UH, the appearance of a pass/fail option on a student’s transcript will be viewed and evaluated differently based on the discipline.
“Since each graduate program has an admissions committee, there will undoubtedly be different approaches to evaluate the experiences of students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Larsen said.
“It may be that different components of the graduate application, such as letters of recommendation and personal statements, will best reflect the challenges that students faced this semester.”
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