The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
On March 20, Acting Provost Susan Collins announced in an email that all undergraduate courses at the University of Michigan would be graded “Pass” or “No Record Covid,” with an option to withdraw from a course until April 21 without the course appearing on their transcript. Students will also have the option to unmask their grades by submitting a request by July 1.
In light of the new policy change, many students told The Daily they are concerned about the connotations of “P” and “NRC” on their transcripts when applying to upper-level admit programs at the University.
The University undergraduate admissions website lists five upper-level units: the Dental Hygiene program at the School of Dentistry, School of Education, School of Public Health, School of Information and the Public Policy School. In addition, the School of Pharmacy offers a bachelor’s program, the Ross School of Business offers a business minor and LSA offers an Organizational Studies program students can apply to in their upper years.
Art & Design freshman Emily Cao said she hopes to apply to the School of Information. According to Cao, she currently plans on unmasking all of her grades but expressed concern if she chooses to keep her grades masked.
“If I do (choose) not to unmask one of my grades, I’m not sure exactly how the program will see it as,” Cao said. “They might question, ‘Why did this person decide not to unmask this grade?’”
LSA freshman Megan Shohfi echoed similar sentiments regarding her plans to apply to both the Ford School of Public Policy and LSA’s Organizational Studies program. Shohfi said she thinks having the option to unmask grades is an added stress. Shohfi said she believes the new grading system does not have a large effect on students applying to upper-level programs because they all aim to achieve a high GPA for a competitive application.
“It’s kind of always in the back of my mind that I’m competing against other students who probably will unmask their grades,” Shohfi said. “So, it seems almost pointless to have the option to pass/fail it or unmask it, because I have to do everything I can to boost my GPA for these programs I’m applying to.”
LSA freshman Lizzy Peppercorn said she will be applying to the Public Policy School and is in favor of the current grading scale to accommodate the pandemic. Peppercorn said when evaluating applications for all students affected by the COVID-19 crisis, institutions should continue to be flexible.
“I like the way they’re doing it, so long as these upper-level admission programs keep in mind that there are certain people that have advantages with resources or are dealing with stressful home lives,” Peppercorn said.
Peppercorn noted it is important students’ transcripts reflect their hard work, but also some students may have advantages over others due to additional resources.
“I think it’s important that if you’ve put all this work into this semester, it should help your GPA,” Peppercorn said. “But it shouldn’t hurt people who don’t show their grades at all. … Also, I think there is cheating going on, so I think that people that are more social can reach out to more friends and get that help. There’s a lot more benefits that people are getting.”
The Business School notes they are closely monitoring the pandemic and will make accommodations where needed. Organization Studies said prerequisites with a “P” will be accepted for the Winter 2020 semester with more information being released in the future.
In an email to The Daily, Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the School of Education, provided a statement regarding the evaluation of applicants.
“The School of Education understands that students applying to our programs will have COVID-affected grades and we will not consider those grades a weakness in any student’s application,” Moje wrote. “Just as we have seen with the preK-12 students and teachers with whom we work, this crisis unequally affects our population. We understand that there are numerous reasons students may not wish to unmask grades this semester, and we are supportive of the University’s decision to establish grading as they have.”
Administrators from both the Pharmacy School and the Public Policy School told The Daily they will maintain flexibility and not make negative inferences on this semester’s grades.
Mark Nelson, assistant dean for student services and admissions at the Pharmacy School, said many institutions are deciding how to handle this semester.
“This conversation is happening all across the country,” Nelson said. “I’ve been on more webinars, I’ve been on more conversations, I’ve received dozens of emails from different schools and hundreds of emails from students asking all the same questions. The tricky thing is that every organization is going to do something different in how they’re going to address how we reduce the anxiety of our students during this pandemic with something like grades.”
Beth Soboleski, associate director of student and academic services at the Public Policy School, said this is an unprecedented time in history and the administration is trying to be as fair as they can.
“This is outside of all of our control,” Soboleski said. “This situation is just something that we’ve never had to deal with before. Most times, students have the option to make a class pass/fail, but in this case, there are no options, so it doesn’t make sense to … penalize or make assumptions about that situation.”
According to Soboleski, the Public Policy School will look at students’ applications holistically and the option of unmasking or masking grades rests in the students’ hands.
“We’re totally leaving it up to the students,” Soboleski said. “If a student says, ‘I think I would like people to see these grades,’ that is completely their decision. But we’re not going to infer if somebody chooses to not unmask that it’s, in some way, a negative situation. Our goal is to hold folks harmless as much as we can.”
Despite these assurances from other institutions and hoping others will follow suit, Cao said there is no way to fully know how their applications will be evaluated.
“I feel like even though they say it, I still fear they might take it a different way because they might still wonder why we decided not to unmask this grade,” Cao said. “Even if they say it, we don’t really know what the specific school is thinking.”
Shohfi said knowing other applicants might unmask all their grades still puts pressure on her to do well and unmask, even if admission policies say otherwise.
“Even though they say that having a ‘Pass’ is fine, to me, just knowing that a lot of students will have an A or a B versus a ‘P’ on their transcript does make a difference to me,” Shohfi said. “It has influenced me to keep my grades up at the end of the semester because I’m going to reveal them.”
Nelson said he recognizes these concerns and knows there still will be anxiety surrounding applications. He said he believes it is up to the professional institutions to be clear and consistent on their policies to help alleviate stress and encourages students to take advantage of the new grading policy.
“You guys have the power to manipulate your GPA, which is kind of awesome,” Nelson said. “And what the administration is saying, and I’m hearing this loud and clear — trust it. Just take it for what it is and don’t spend time thinking about it. I hope that many (other) schools will do that. We certainly are.”
Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at email@example.com.