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Frequently Asked Questions about Fall 2020 Grades

Below is an archive record of frequently asked questions about the alternative grading system implemented for the fall 2020 semester. The information on this page only pertains to and was effective for the fall 2020 semester. Grading information for all other semesters can be found in the Grades section of the Office of the University Registrar website.

Undergraduate Student Questions and Answers

This alternative grading option applies to all undergraduate students taking fall 2020 courses, including Penn State World Campus students.

The online tool to select alternative grades on a course-by-course basis will be the same as the one used in spring and will be available to students beginning December 23. All selections must be finalized by January 12.

Even more so than in the spring, it is recommended that students use alternative grading cautiously. We have no control over how outside entities such as graduate schools or employers will view alternative grades, especially when used for multiple semesters. Remember that while various forms of pass/fail grading were widely used in spring 2020, they are much less common now, which may change how alternative grades are viewed.

In most cases, it will make sense to select alternative grading for those courses in which you earned a D or F. Selecting SAT grades to replace C-or-better grades should be done with care. It is important that your transcript reflect your true accomplishments. Grades of C or better demonstrate these accomplishments, and shielding them from view to elevate your Penn State GPA should be done with caution. In addition to discussing this with your academic adviser, please read the additional guidance on this page.

No. You will not be able to elect alternative grading for the course in which the AI violation occurred if you are found responsible.

Yes. Earning an SAT grade means the faculty entered a grade of C or higher as your final grade.

No. The course will still count just as if you had kept the D. It will meet degree requirements if allowed, and it can be used to meet prerequisites. The difference is that it will not be included in the calculation of your GPA.

If the prerequisite requires a D or better, both grades will work. If the requirement is to earn a C or better in the prerequisite course, you will need to earn an SAT grade.

We do not control how these external agencies might recalculate GPAs. Indeed, Penn State has already heard of cases in which other universities were refusing to accept alternative grades for transfer. This is why many in the advising community believe that the prudent advice is for students to continue to work toward strong letter grades, especially in key courses related to their programs of study. Please speak with your academic adviser about this, as you may want to elect to maintain letter grades even if they decrease your GPA.

Yes. Students-athletes should consider taking advantage of this option just like any other student would. If you have questions concerning eligibility, you should contact your campus athletic director (Commonwealth campuses) or your adviser with the Morgan Academic Center (University Park).

Review the Entrance to Major (ETM) Considerations below to learn more about how alternative grading may affect your entrance to major.

The Schreyer Honors College will review each student's semester GPA and cumulative GPA to determine if a student is in good standing with Schreyer Honors College. Each Schreyer Scholar should carefully weigh whether to avail themselves of alternative grading as there may be implications associated with applications to professional schools, graduate schools, scholarships, and other academic pursuits.

Find more information on the Schreyer Honors College site.

You can use the undergraduate alternative grading options for your undergraduate courses only. However, optional alternative grading is available for students with special circumstances in graduate courses (including undergraduate students) for the fall 2020 semester via an exception process. Undergraduate students taking graduate courses should contact the head of the graduate program offering the course.

Optional alternative grading is available for students with special circumstances in graduate courses (including IUG students) for the fall 2020 semester via an exception process. Students in IUG programs should consult the head of the graduate program offering the course.

Yes. Alternative grades can be selected for all courses completed in fall 2020.

Students enrolled in graduate courses and professional schools should speak with those schools for guidance. The other classes you will need to consider are any in which you must achieve a grade of B or better. For instance, there are some majors that require a grade of B or better for entrance to the major. In this case, you may need to retain a letter grade in those courses. Such requirements are not as common and can be found in the "How to Get In" section for the major in the Undergraduate Bulletin. If you think this may be an issue for you, consult with your academic adviser.

Faculty Senate policy specifically permits you to repeat any course in which you elect alternative grades. It is important to note, though, that through spring 2021, Faculty Senate policy allows three attempts per course. Courses taken for alternative grades are included in the total attempts. Effective summer 2021, the number of attempts allowed on individual courses will be reduced to two. Petitioning for additional attempts is allowed, though granting exceptions is not guaranteed. Review the policy on the Undergraduate Education site.

There is no limit to the number of courses that a student can convert to the alternative grading system in fall 2020, although the general guidance is that you should try to maintain a transcript with as many letter grades as possible. Students who choose all alternative grades will have a resulting 0.0 GPA which could negatively impact future considerations for academic choices and financial aid. You should discuss this with your academic adviser.

No. Faculty can only enter standard letter grades. If you want to elect alternative grading once the system is closed on January 12, you will need to use the petition process. Note that a change in the assigned letter grade may change your decision.

Selections are considered final unless there is a change in circumstance for which an exception would be appropriate.

Exceptions include:

  • you changed majors and now find that you need a letter grade reported for a course for graduate school admission after having selected the alternative grade
  • you changed your intended major and now require a letter grade to meet the administrative ETM requirement
  • faculty changed/entered your grade in a course after the selection period for alternative grading
  • deferred grades are changed to letter grades

The Faculty Senate has developed an expedited process to allow you to submit a petition to use alternative grading in such cases. If you believe that your circumstances warrant an exception, consult with your adviser about submitting a Faculty Senate petition.

Many scholarships, honors, and awards are based on the achievement of a high cumulative GPA and are a recognition of outstanding academic achievement. For this reason, the use of alternative grades may make a student ineligible for certain awards and scholarships. Students should carefully consult the requirements for any scholarships, honors, or awards for which they may be eligible before deciding to choose alternative grades.

Courses in which you utilize alternative grades in fall 2020 will not count in meeting the minimum credit requirement to be considered for graduation with distinction. If you elected to use alternative grading for courses during spring 2020, those will continue to count toward meeting the 60-credit threshold. Your Penn State GPA, which excludes courses taken for alternative grades from the calculation, will be used in determining your distinction level.

To be considered for Dean's List in fall 2020, students will need to have at least 12 credits carrying standard letter grades. Students' Penn State GPA, which excludes courses taken for alternative grades from the calculation, will be used to assess academic achievement.

Courses for which you elect alternative grades in fall 2020 cannot be used in the grade forgiveness process. This means that an SAT grade taken in fall 2020 cannot be used to exclude a previous D or F from the GPA calculation. Note that this is a change from spring 2020, when this was permitted. There will never be a need to use grade forgiveness to remove an alternative grade because these grades are already excluded from the GPA calculation.

For a course to be eligible for review for transfer credit at Penn State, the grade earned must be equivalent to a grade of C or better. The transcript must list the number of credits and indicate that you earned a C or better. If the campus is using a form of alternative or pass/fail grading, a "pass" would only be accepted for transfer if it were clearly indicated as a C or better (and not a D or C-). Transfer courses carry credit but are not calculated into your Penn State GPA, no matter what grading scale is used. Similarly, in its own alternative grading scale, Penn State purposefully defined an SAT grade as C or better, and adoption of the Penn State alternative grading scale also will not affect your GPA.

Entrance to Major (ETM) Considerations

Students must meet certain entrance to major (ETM) requirements for admission to any major. These requirements are found on the "How to Get In" tab in the Undergraduate Bulletin. Most majors have academic controls that are designed to help ensure students have the minimum preparation to succeed in the curriculum. These controls are typically a minimum cumulative GPA and third-semester classification. Some majors might have additional course requirements or a grade point average across a specific suite of courses or a certain number of credits. As in spring 2020, the selection of alternative grades will not limit access for students seeking admission to majors that are academically controlled. Credits earned in courses using alternative grades count toward semester standing, and SAT grades satisfy C-or-better requirements.

Penn State also has majors for which there is insufficient capacity to admit all interested students who meet academic ETM requirements. These majors -- all within the colleges of Business, Communications, Earth and Mineral Sciences, Engineering, and Information Sciences and Technology -- have additional administrative controls, which are also listed on the "How to Get In" tab in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Special Considerations for Academically Controlled Engineering Majors

If you are planning to apply to an engineering major that does not have administrative controls, there are different things for you to consider. Unlike applying to administratively controlled majors, there is no restriction on using alternative grades for specific courses for academically controlled majors, including those in engineering. However, the general caution against using alternative grades because of how external audiences may view them remains valid. Because the academic controls for engineering majors are unique in having a credit window, courses taken for alternative grades will not automatically count toward the ETM credit window. This means that some students at the lower end of the credit window may find that they would have moved into the credit window and qualified for entrance to major if the alternatively graded courses had been included. In these cases, the college will allow you to enter the major if you otherwise meet all requirements. Please speak with an academic adviser for more details.

ETM Considerations for Administratively Controlled Majors

There are some important changes from spring to fall 2020 (see below) in how alternative grades can be used in meeting entrance to major (ETM) requirements for administratively controlled majors.

This page addresses how the selection of alternative grading will affect ETM requirements in administratively controlled majors offered at the Penn State University Park campus. While all majors have general ETM requirements, administratively controlled majors have more stringent requirements for entering a major. This may include, but is not limited to, additional prerequisite classes, course credit limitations, differing GPA standards, etc.

You are strongly encouraged to speak with an academic adviser to consider all the implications of alternative grading when seeking admission to an administratively controlled major. Your best option may be different than would be the case for students pursuing other majors because of the additional requirements. Your current GPA, the required GPA for ETM, your progress in ETM courses, and where you are in the credit window all might have an influence on your decision.

These majors are currently under administrative controls. You can find complete information on these majors in the Undergraduate Bulletin.

Smeal College of Business:

  • Accounting (ACCTG_BS)
  • Actuarial Science (ACTSC_BS)
  • Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIENT_BS)
  • Finance (FIN_BS)
  • Management (MGMT_BS)
  • Management Information Systems (MIS_BS)
  • Marketing (MKTG_BS)
  • Risk Management (RM_BS)
  • Supply Chain and Information Systems (SCIS_BS)

Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications:

  • Advertising/Public Relations (ADPR_BA)

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences:

  • Energy Business and Finance (EBF_BS)
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (PNGE_BS)

College of Engineering:

  • Aerospace Engineering (AERSP_BS)
  • Biomedical Engineering (BME_BS)
  • Chemical Engineering (CHE_BS)
  • Civil Engineering (CE_BS)
  • Computer Engineering (CMPEN_BS)
  • Computer Science (CMPSC_BS)
  • Industrial Engineering (IE_BS)
  • Mechanical Engineering (ME_BS)

College of Information Sciences and Technology:

  • Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations (CYAOP_BS)
  • Human-Centered Design and Development (HCDD_BS)
  • Information Sciences and Technology (ISTBS_BS)
  • Security and Risk Analysis (SRA_BS)

Meeting Grade and Credit Requirements

An SAT grade satisfies some requirements where a C or better is required to enter a major. Policy changes for fall 2020 have created some restrictions.

Policy Changes for Fall 2020

The most important change for fall 2020 is that each administratively controlled major has identified a list of ETM courses for which alternative grades cannot be used (see below) to satisfy the ETM course requirement, unless the course was taken in spring 2020. It is important that you retain standard letter grades in these courses for the fall 2020 semester. If necessary, students who select alternative grades for these courses will be able to repeat the course for letter grades or file Senate petitions to revert to their letter grades.

As in spring 2020, courses taken for alternative grades will not count toward the ETM credit window. These credits do count toward the semester standing, but are specifically excluded from the threshold for admission to administratively controlled majors. In spring, colleges committed to providing exceptions to allow students to enter majors if they would have made the lower credit threshold if the alternatively graded courses had been counted, but these exceptions will not be provided for courses with alternative grades selected in fall 2020. This step is being taken to ensure that all students have a minimum number of graded credits on which ETM decisions are based. Alternative grades can continue to be used to help avoid exceeding the upper ETM credit limits. Please speak with an academic adviser if you have questions about the ETM process for your major of interest.

Courses Requiring Letter Grades for Specific Majors

The courses in the list below are organized by the administratively controlled major that requires a letter grade for the course. The list includes any special designation of these courses, including honors and writing enhanced.

Smeal College of Business:

  • Accounting (ACCTG_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Actuarial Science (ACTSC_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIENT_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Finance (FIN_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Management (MGMT_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Management Information Systems (MIS_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Marketing (MKTG_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Risk Management (RM_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301
  • Supply Chain and Information Systems (SCIS_BS): ACCTG 211, FIN 301, MGMT 301, and MKTG 301

Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications:

  • Advertising/Public Relations (ADPR_BA): ENGL 15 or any of the permitted substitutions: ENGL 30, ESL 15, ENGL 137H, or CAS 137H

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences:

  • Energy Business and Finance (EBF_BS): None
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (PNGE_BS): None

College of Engineering:

  • Aerospace Engineering (AERSP_BS): MATH 141
  • Biomedical Engineering (BME_BS): MATH 141
  • Chemical Engineering (CHE_BS): MATH 141
  • Civil Engineering (CE_BS): MATH 141
  • Computer Engineering (CMPEN_BS): MATH 141
  • Computer Science (CMPSC_BS): MATH 141
  • Industrial Engineering (IE_BS): MATH 141
  • Mechanical Engineering (ME_BS): MATH 141

College of Information Sciences and Technology:

  • Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations (CYAOP_BS): CYBER 100; IST 140 or CMPSC 101 or CMPSC 121; IST 210; IST 220; IST 242; STAT 200
  • Human-Centered Design and Development (HCDD_BS): HCDD 113 or HCDD 113S; IST 140 or CMPSC 121 or CMPSC 131 or (CMPSC 101 and IST 240); IST 242 or (CMPSC 122 and CMPSC 221) or (CMPSC 132 and CMPSC 221); IST 210; IST 220; STAT 200
  • Information Sciences and Technology (ISTBS_BS): IST 110; IST 140 or CMPSC 101 or CMPSC 121; IST 210; IST 220
  • Security and Risk Analysis (SRA_BS): IST 140 or CMPSC 101 or CMPSC 121; IST 210; SRA 111; SRA 211