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During the COVID-19 pandemic, and after a graduate student strike and a contested presidential election, University of Michigan undergraduates are still applying to graduate schools. And for grad school applications, grades matter.

Though the University unveiled a new grading policy for the 2020-21 school year, allowing students to display “Pass” on their transcript for grades above C- and “No Record Covid” for those D- and below, students applying to graduate schools said they are worried schools will assume the worst if they see masked grades on their transcripts. 

The University released its new policy after months of student advocacy for a revised grading policy. Central Student Government, the largest representative assembly at the University, passed a resolution demanding the implementation of the winter 2020 grading policy for the 2020-21 school year. LSA senior Cameron Roehm started a petition advocating for the University to apply P/NRC grading to the fall semester. 

CSG President Amanda Kaplan, a Public Policy senior, spoke on the widespread support from the student body for an adjusted grading policy at the Nov. 2 CSG meeting.

“This is a crazy semester,” Kaplan said. “Over 10% of the student body has officially signed on in support (of the resolution). The overwhelming amount of support demonstrates that students really feel like they need this.” 

LSA senior Timmy Li, who will be applying to medical school next year, said despite the pandemic, the expectation to do well still remains.

“I haven’t been severely affected (by COVID-19), and I haven’t had any major family issues or health issues of my own. And so, because of that, I feel like I still have the pressure to impress the schools and show to them that I can still get a good grade,” Li said.

LSA senior Jessica Baker, who applied to medical schools last semester, echoed Li’s concerns. Baker also said she feels most at ease when graduate schools acknowledge challenges that come with online learning in their application processes.

“I think as a pre-med student, you basically had to reveal your grades, because if you left them Pass/No Record (Covid) … it shows to the medical schools that there’s a reason why you’re hiding the grade, and so it kind of forces you to expose them,” Baker said.

LSA senior Claire Hubbell said she will be applying to physician assistant programs this year. Hubbell said she would like to use the new grading policies, but feels that she needs to show programs she excelled in a course. 

“I would love to use P/NRC on (pre-requisite courses), but I really can’t, because I need them to show up to show that I got an A for these grad schools,” Hubbell said. 

She said she felt the new grading policies are beneficial to undergrads who aren’t planning on attending grad school, but not so much to those who are. 

“Pass/NRC is really great for a lot of people that maybe aren’t (applying to graduate school), but for pre-health kids — for kids that are really set on going to grad school right after undergrad — it really is not much of a help, because you can’t really use it,” Hubbell said. 

Public Policy senior Mariana Perez is applying to law schools this semester and said she feels if she uses the P/NRC option, law schools will assume a low grade. 

“It feels like a lose-lose situation,” Perez said. “If I put it as a pass, I feel like law schools are just going to assume that it was a C+.”

Paul Robinson, interim vice provost for enrollment management and associate vice provost, wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that students’ decisions to convert a letter grade to a “Pass” or an “NRC” to a letter grade should depend on the programs where they plan to apply and the importance of the individual class in a student’s application.  

“Many graduate programs want to see a letter grade and the associated GPA. So, there will be cases where a letter grade is needed,” Robinson said. “On the other hand, there may be courses where converting the letter grade to a ‘Pass’ is advantageous – especially in the case where a student’s GPA might be negatively affected.” 

Though students said the University’s new grading policy has taken a little pressure off, they said the best support would be leniency from professors and clear communication from graduate schools. 

Hubbell said she feels there are other actions the University could take to help students, like talking to professors about leniency with deadlines.

“The P/F option is definitely really good for a big handful of students, but I also feel like what would most help all students, regardless of what your post-grad plans are, is just having professors that care and are willing to work with you,” Hubbell said. 

She said some of her professors do not understand why students are finding this semester more challenging but hopes they begin to prioritize learning over strictly sticking to syllabi and deadlines. 

“I know a lot of professors are worried about grade inflation and stuff like that with the online format, but I think professors and administrators (should) just keep in mind that the best thing for our students right now is making sure that we’re learning,” Hubbell said. 

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at julrubin@umich.edu. Daily Contributor Madeleine Bauer can be reached at madbauer@umich.edu.

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