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Coronavirus High School Grading Policies: How Will They Impact College Admissions?

One minute, you were studying for your exams and anticipating spring break, and the next, you found out that you would no longer be attending classes — physically, at least. Most likely, you’re still expected to finish your courses online, from your own home and computer.


The global pandemic is changing the way we run every aspect of our lives. In many ways, it’s affecting students most of all. If you’re in high school, you’re probably wondering how this is going to impact your transcript. Will you still get grades? What will it mean in terms of your performance? And how will colleges consider this period when making admissions decisions?


How Have High Schools Changed Grading During Coronavirus?


Grading is one of the most difficult things to contend with at schools during the coronavirus pandemic. As most high school courses are moved to an online format, both students and teachers must adjust to the change quickly. For both instructors and their pupils alike, this presents a myriad of challenges. That’s why schools are considering different grading models. For the most part, they fall into three categories:


1. All students receive passing or failing grades.

2. No grades will be given at all.

3. Grading (A-F or 4.0 scale) will continue as normal.


Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.


All students receive passing or failing grades.


According to EdWeek, some K-12 schools are following the example of the many colleges and universities that have transitioned to a pass/fail or credit/no-credit grading system. For example, the Highline school district in Burien, Washington, is using a pass/no-credit system during this challenging time, due to the uncertainty of how this will affect students’ learning and ability to study.


This is perhaps one of the fairest compromises, since it motivates students to persist in their studies, while still acknowledging that the context and transition to a new format may be difficult for many of them. However, high-achieving students may feel under-acknowledged for their hard work and worry about how this will affect their chances of admissions.


No grades will be given at all.


Some schools are eliminating grades during the age of coronavirus altogether. This can give instructors the opportunity to emphasize feedback, since students won’t be so focused on the letter or number. Moreover, it won’t penalize students who are unable to study or participate due to limited wifi connectivity or financial hardship. However, as with a pass/fail model, this may also concern students who are high-achieving, as they may wonder whether this will put them at a disadvantage during college admissions season. Moreover, students may have less motivation to put in effort if they’re not going to be graded at all. 


Grading will continue as normal.


Fewer schools are opting to continue grading students as normal. Some, however, are modifying the current system less drastically than adopting a total pass/fail model.


The Mountain Empire school district in California, for example, wants students to look toward continuing or building up their progress. Therefore, as long as students continue to put in the effort and participate, their grades from before the crisis will be maintained. Moreover, students will have room for improvement. 


Niagara Falls, meanwhile, is probably going to assign a grade of incomplete, pass, or mastery. As with the Mountain Empire plan, this acknowledges students who are putting in the work, while still addressing how others may not be able to continue learning as normal.


One of the biggest challenges with continuing grading as normal is the fact that some students may not have access to the technology necessary for completing their assignments and attending classes. This might be because of a difficult home life atmosphere, financial issues, or their location (if, for instance, wifi is spotty in the area). Still, since grades are meant to indicate how students might perform in a more rigorous college setting, some schools are hesitant to do away with them entirely.


It’s also important to remember that many internet providers are attempting to support the needs of K-12 and college students. For example, Charter Communications is offering free Spectrum broadband and wifi to households with students without a current subscription for 60 days. If you lack certain resources, be sure to reach out to your teachers and counselor for accommodations.

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How Will Grades During Coronavirus Impact College Admissions?


Understandably, many students are concerned about how their high schools’ grading policies will impact college admissions. Since the current cycle of decisions is based on grades prior to this semester, it remains to be seen how adcoms will evaluate grades from the period affected by coronavirus. Most likely, colleges will weigh grades during COVID-19 less heavily or not consider them at all. 


Currently, colleges are showing that they’re willing to adapt to whatever model your high school adopts, but they will likely standardize their approach internally during the admissions season.


Brandeis University, for example, is maintaining a Coronavirus/COVID-19 FAQ page with the following statement:


“If your school decides to move to an alternative grading system (i.e. pass/fail, credit/no credit), our office is fully prepared to accept these changes as made by individual schools. Any information explaining these changes is always welcome, whether on the transcript itself or in a communication from your school counselor.”


Meanwhile, due to canceled, delayed, or otherwise changed standardized testing dates and policies, some schools, such as Case Western Reserve University, have elected to become test-optional, too. These instances, among many others, show that colleges are adapting to the challenges posed by COVID-19 to try to be as fair as possible to this year’s college applicants.


That said, you should still make an effort to perform well in your courses, since a consistently strong transcript will only help you in the long and short run. Even if you’re not receiving grades during the pandemic, you’re still building a foundation for future coursework and will need to understand the concepts you learn to move forward. You’ll also need teacher recommendations when you apply to college, and your instructors will be observing how you’re engaging and persisting through this period.


If you have external circumstances that make it difficult for you to complete your assignments or attend class online, such as limited access to wifi, explain the situation to your teachers. Given these unprecedented circumstances, they will likely want to support you in whatever way they can. If you experience any challenges that impact your grades, you should also explain them in the Additional Information section of the Common Application.


Additional Resources


Looking for additional guidance in navigating your schoolwork during these challenging times? We’ve got tips on what to do in your grades drop because of the COVID-19 impact, how high school juniors should be preparing, and extracurriculars you can complete at home.


These are difficult times for everyone. At CollegeVine, we’re here to support you. COVID-19 is a constantly-changing situation, and we want to ensure you have access to the most up-to-date info in one place. Visit our Coronavirus Info Center to check for any new developments in college admissions during these unusual circumstances.

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.