Anant Sriram / Sun File Photo

Faced with the S/U grade change deadline, May 12, students assess how much COVID-19 has impacted their studies.

May 12, 2020

Students Left in the Dark Over Grades as S/U Deadline Approaches

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As the semester draws to a close, some students will have to face a last-minute, yet major decision on May 12 — whether to take classes S/U.

The new grading policy — which lengthened the amount of time students had to change the grading scheme for their courses — was announced by Provost Michael Kotlikoff on April 5, a day before classes resumed online to better accommodate students during Cornell’s shift to online-only instruction.

Julia Levine ’22 decided to take her chemistry class as S/U after discussing it with her advisor, who assured her that switching to S/U for one semester would not reflect poorly on her application to graduate school.

“Learning thermodynamics over Zoom turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated and I quickly realized how important the in-person class experience was,” Levine said.

Various student groups emerged before Kotlikoff’s announcement, with some calling for universal S/U — citing the difficulty of underprivileged students to adapt to virtual classes — and others asking for an opt-in S/U grading system, arguing that regularly graded classes would help their GPAs, which is especially important for students applying to graduate school.

Students have until the end of the day on Tuesday to change any course’s grading basis for the spring semester or drop a course without a W on their transcript. The University will include a notation on any Cornell-issued transcript explaining any irregularities for this semester’s grading system.

Some students were still on the fence about what to do.

Aaron Kaminsky ’21 has been left in the dark regarding where his grades stand at this point in the semester, which has heavily impacted his decision to opt into S/U grading.

“I wish all classes gave us an updated estimate of our grades before the deadline so we could make an informed decision,” Kaminsky said. “Right now, it’s basically a guessing game and I’ll most likely have to take almost all my classes S/U as a result.”

Joshua Appel ’22 faces a similar conundrum, finding that some of his professors did not enter grades since in-person classes ended.

Appel found that it was “impossible to decide whether or not to switch to S/U” without knowing where he stood in those classes.

Others didn’t want to take the chance in the event that graduate schools could look unfavorably upon S/U classes. Alec Goldberg ’23 said he plans to apply to the Cornell Masters of Engineering program and that he “didn’t even entertain the idea” of taking S/U classes.

Cornell’s Graduate School released an announcement stating that it will recognize the difficulties associated with the spring 2020 semester when reviewing credentials and transcripts of future applicants.

“We will respect decisions made by individual students and/or by their academic institutions with regard to the enrollment in or adoption of Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading options during the pandemic disruptions,” the statement read.

Samuel Stamler ’22 was happy to see the administration looking out for both sides of student perspectives, even though he will not be taking any classes with the S/U format.

“I don’t think students should be forced to partake in the S/U system if they don’t want to,” Stamler said. “With that being said, I know there are others who simply cannot prioritize grades anymore, out of no fault of their own, so I was glad Cornell found a way to address both sides by making it opt-in.”