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Exception Process for Spring 2021 Optional Alternative Grades

Optional alternative grading (OAG) is available for graduate students with special circumstances for the Spring 2021 semester and IUG and undergraduate students in graduate courses via an exception process. This process is designed for students who have been significantly impacted by the global pandemic due to circumstances beyond their control, and for whom the variety of available academic options and allowances (e.g., late- dropping courses; deferring grades; extensions for benchmark examinations and degree completion; exceptions to Concurrent degree policies; etc.) cannot otherwise meet their needs. Students should request alternative grading and programs should approve alternative grading very cautiously and with attention to understanding all short- and long-term implications of this decision. The procedure for requesting an exception to receive OAG is described below. 

Optional Alternative Grades: 

The following grade changes are available, if approved, for OAG in graduate courses: 

  • Grades of “A”, “B”, or “C” may be replaced by “P”. 

  • Grades of “D” may be replaced by “V”. 

  • Grades of “F” may be replaced by “Z”. 

Courses for which students choose P will NOT be used in calculating the student’s GPA and WILL appear as earned credits on the graduate transcript. 

Students will NOT earn credit on the graduate transcript for courses (including 400-level courses) assigned V or Z (attempted credits will still appear on the transcript), and the grades for these courses will NOT be included in the GPA. Note that credits attempted but not awarded can impact financial aid. 

Eligibility: 

  • OAG is intended for students who have been significantly impacted by the global pandemic due to circumstances beyond their control. Examples of such circumstances include students who contracted COVID themselves, were caregivers for sick family members, or experienced increased stress and anxiety due to COVID to the extent that they sought medical help or were clearly noted as distraught by instructors or advisors.  

  • It is strongly recommended that only grades of B-, C+, or C be converted to P. A change of a grade of B or higher to P should only be requested if there are clear extenuating circumstances that support this change. 

  • OAG will not be available for students with a deferred grade. Students should decide before the end of the spring semester whether they plan to defer the grade or to petition for an OAG. 

  • Students receiving an academic sanction for violating Penn State’s Academic Integrity policy in one of their SP21 courses are not eligible for OAG for that course. 

Deadlines: 

  • Students planning to graduate this semester who plan to request OAG should initiate this process as soon as possible after the final grades have been recorded in LionPath, with the required memo to be submitted to the Graduate School at gradstudentaffairs@psu.edu no later than May 17, 2021 to meet downstream University deadlines for graduation.  

  • Students not planning to graduate should submit their requests no later than May 31, 2021. 

Procedure to submit an exception request for Optional Alternative Grades: 

  1. Point of Contact:  

  • Graduate students wishing to request OAG should first contact their graduate program head to discuss their request. 
  • Integrated Undergraduate-Graduate degree program (IUG students) wishing to request OAG for a graduate or undergraduate course as part of their graduate career should contact their graduate program head. IUG students wishing to request OAG for a graduate course as part of their undergraduate career should contact their academic adviser and the graduate program head for the program offering the course to discuss their request. IUG students will be able to directly select OAG for undergraduate courses on the undergraduate career via LionPath
  • Undergraduate students taking graduate courses wishing to request OAG should contact their academic adviser and the graduate program head for the program offering the course. 
  • Students who are not comfortable discussing their options with their graduate program heads are invited to reach out to Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs, or Dr. Stephanie Preston, Associate Dean for Graduate Educational Equity, for consultation.  
  1. Consultation: 

  • Students wishing to request OAG should review the following with the appropriate individual as described above. 
  • Reason for the Request: Students are encouraged to discuss the pandemic-related circumstances leading to their request with their programs to determine if they are eligible.  

  • NOTE: If a student is not comfortable discussing their situation with their graduate program, they may contact Dr. Sarah Ades, the Associate Dean for Student Affairs (sea10@psu.edu), and/or Dr. Stephanie Preston, the Associate Dean for Graduate Educational Equity (sdp163@psu.edu), regarding their eligibility. Such information will not be shared with the program and will be treated confidentially, except where disclosure is required by law or University policy, such as to protect the safety and welfare of an individual. 
  • Implications for Progress in Current Degree Program: The Graduate School requires a GPA of 3.0 for a student to be in good academic standing to take a milestone examination and to graduate. Students should have at least 50% of their credits with quality letter grades approaching milestone exams and graduation. If a student considering OAG for the fall will end up with more than 50% of their total credits receiving OAG, the graduate program must consult with the Graduate School to discuss options prior to proceeding with the OAG request. 

  • Alternatives to OAG: Before selecting OAG, students should explore whether other available academic options and allowances (e.g., late- dropping courses; deferring grades; extensions for benchmark examinations and degree completion; exceptions to Concurrent degree policies; etc.) can be utilized. OAG should be requested when these other options do not otherwise meet their needs.  

  • Impact on Transcript: If a student is planning to pursue additional graduate or professional studies (e.g., law or medical school) after completing their courses at Penn State, OAG may negatively impact such applications because some institutions or specific programs may not recognize OAG. In addition, OAG may impact eligibility for certain certifications and professional or other licensures. 

  • Potential Financial and Immigration Implications: OAG may negatively impact financial aid, employer tuition reimbursement plans, sponsorship agreements, and visa requirements due to the need to report academic progress because courses with OAG are not included in the GPA and/or some entities do not accept the OAG transcript notations. 

  1. Exception request:  

  • If a decision is made by the student to proceed with a request for an exception to receive OAG, approval should be obtained from the relevant administrators as outlined in Table 1. If the student’s request is supported by the graduate program, a memo requesting the exception and containing all the required approvals specified in Steps 1 and 2 in Table 1 should be submitted to the Graduate School at gradstudentaffairs@psu.edu by the graduate program and should include: 
    • the course(s) for which OAG are being requested; 

    • the letter grade received in each course; 

    • approvals by the relevant administrators from Table 1; 

    • a statement explaining the pandemic-related reasons for the request should be attached. 

  • If the graduate program does not support the exception request, the graduate program should write a memo explaining why they do not support the exception. This memo along with the other materials outlined above should be submitted to the graduate school at gradstudentaffairs@psu.edu. 
  • The Graduate School will review all requests and forward those approved to the Registrar’s Office for the grade change(s) to be recorded. 
  1. Appeal process: 

  • Students whose requests for optional alternative grading are not approved by the graduate program or campus/college/school administrator for graduate education and believe that their needs have not been reasonably considered may appeal the decision to the Graduate School. 

Table 1: Approval pathway for exception requests to receive OAG 

 

 

Approval Step 1 

Approval Step 2 

Approval Step 3 

Graduate Students 

Graduate Course 

Graduate Program Head 

Administrator for graduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Undergraduate Course 

Graduate Program Head 

Administrator for graduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

IUG Students 

 

 

 

Graduate course on GRAD career 

Graduate Program Head 

Administrator for graduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Graduate course on UGRD career 

Graduate Program Head of program offering course 

Administrator for undergraduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Undergraduate course on GRAD career 

Graduate Program Head 

Administrator for graduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Undergrad course on UGRD career 

Directly available in LP 

 

 

Joint Degree Students 

 

Graduate course on GRAD or PROF career 

Graduate Program Head of program offering course 

Administrator for graduate or professional education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Undergraduate Students 

 

Graduate course on UGRAD career 

Graduate Program Head of program offering course 

Administrator for undergraduate education of the campus/college/school 

The Graduate School 

Note: GRAD/UGRD/PROF career refers to the portion of a student’s transcript with courses recorded towards a graduate, undergraduate, or professional degree, respectively. 

 

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