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Winter and Spring 2020

Updated 5/11/2020

School-Specific Questions and Resources

In addition to the questions listed below that relate to policies and procedures Northwestern implemented for Winter and Spring 2020, many of Northwestern's schools developed specific ​resources for their communities. Please visit the School and Unit Websites resource page for more information. For general information on Academics, please visit the Academics FAQ page.

Remote Classes

1. How is the University addressing winter quarter final exams for graduate students?

Instructors were urged to offer alternatives to in-person Winter Quarter exams, including remote or take-home finals or grading the course based on work completed to date. To accommodate this, we extended the Winter Quarter grading deadline for faculty until Wednesday, March 25 at 3 p.m. If instructors are unable to grade a final assessment or students were unable to complete the final assessment, students will temporarily receive an “NR.” Instructors should contact students to complete work and a grade will be submitted by April 10.

Grading

1. What were the options for Winter Quarter finals and final grades?

Instructors were urged to offer alternatives to in-person Winter Quarter exams, including remote or take-home finals or grading the course based on work completed to date. The Winter Quarter grading deadline for faculty was extended until Wednesday, March 25 at 3 p.m. If instructors were unable to grade a final assessment or students were unable to complete the final assessment, students temporarily received an “NR” and had the opportunity to complete work for a grade by April 10. (Updated 5/11/20)

2. What were the grading policies for undergraduates in Winter Quarter?

Undergraduate winter quarter final examinations and assessments (e.g., writing assignments, projects, etc.) were optional. Undergraduates who took the final examination or who submitted final assessments/papers received grades according to the principles set out on the course syllabus.

Undergraduates who opted not to (or could not) take the final assessment were assigned a grade based on the work they have completed, and may have temporarily received an “NR” if they were unable to complete the final assessment or the instructor was unable to grade on time. Instructors were asked to contact students to complete work and submit grades by April 10.

Undergraduates have been given the option to change their winter term grade from a quality assessment (a letter grade) to Pass/Fail. More information about this retroactive change process can be found on the website of the University Registrar and by consulting advisers and school policies. Students will have until May 29 to submit the request. (Updated 5/11/20)

3. What is the grading system for undergraduates for the Spring Quarter?

Based on feedback from deans, Faculty Senate representatives, the associate deans for undergraduate study and others, Northwestern University has decided to institute Pass/No Pass (P/N) grading for undergraduates in Spring Quarter 2020, with a passing grade designated as a D or higher, per University policy. 

4. Has the grading system for graduate and professional students changed for the Spring Quarter?

Details on approaches for spring study in the Pritzker School of LawKellogg School of Management and Feinberg School of Medicine can be found on their respective Coronavirus update pages.

Other graduate programs are offering a new option in which students will receive Pass/No Pass grades for Spring Quarter but have the option to select quality (letter) grades. We encourage only those who must have a letter grade for external accreditation, licensure, or reimbursement to opt-out of Pass/No Pass grading. (Updated 5/11/20)

5. Why is the University instituting Pass/No Pass grading for undergraduate courses for Spring Quarter?

The University maintains its high academic expectations and commitment to rigor for Spring Quarter. At the same time, we are sensitive to the complicated nature of this moment and the challenges many students and faculty will continue to face in the coming months. Our guiding principle is to protect those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, recognizing that we do not yet know the full scope of its impact on all members of our community.

We know that some students are working hard to achieve certain GPA goals. But we also have students whose family members are ill or are facing economic difficulties, and students who are struggling with mental health issues and challenges associated with social isolation. In the end, we made the difficult choice to employ Pass/No Pass, because we thought it provided both equity and compassion to those most impacted by this pandemic.

6. How have the deadlines to add, drop or withdraw from courses changed for Spring Quarter?

The University has extended add, drop and withdrawal deadlines for students. These extensions are reflected in the academic calendar. (Updated 4/6/20)

7. Have other academic University policies and expectations changed for Spring Quarter 2020?

All policies and procedures that apply to students’ time on-campus still apply to remote learning, including policies and procedures outlined in the Northwestern Student Handbook and the University’s expectations around academic integrity.  We encourage you to review Academic Integrity: A Basic Guide and your school’s policies on academic integrity. As always, dishonesty, cheating and theft in any form will not be tolerated in this remote environment. 

8. How will the Spring Quarter grading change impact my undergraduate GPA or requirements?

Pass/No Pass grades do not count in the GPA; a Pass grade does earn a unit of credit towards graduation. Individual schools have communicated their approach to flexibility in using a Pass grade from Spring Quarter 2020 to fulfill requirements. (Updated 5/11/20)

9. How will Pass/No Pass grading in Winter and Spring Quarters affect my application to graduate or professional school or other opportunities requiring submission of my grades or transcript?

Northwestern has previously communicated, there will be language on student transcripts that points to the fact that a global pandemic during Winter Quarter 2020 and Spring Quarter 2020 required significant changes to coursework and led to unusual enrollment patterns and grades. As in normal circumstances, students should continue to consult with their academic advisers, school and program-level resources and University resources--such as Northwestern Career Advising, Health Professions Advising and the Office of Fellowships--for additional guidance regarding post-degree plans and other opportunities.

10. How will Pass/No Pass grading in Winter and Spring Quarters affect my application to medical school specifically?

Some institutions, including Harvard Medical School, have reported that they will consider Pass grades during this period as long as it is the only option available to undergraduate students. Furthermore, while medical schools look at applicants’ cumulative GPA and cumulative science GPA, these are elements of their larger holistic review process. Your GPA is not the only thing they are looking at in your application. Additional information is available with Northwestern’s Health Professions Advising Office.

11. Why can’t undergraduates have the choice of Pass/No Pass or letter grades for Spring Quarter?

Many factors were considered in the decision to go to Pass/No Pass grading for Spring Quarter. Peer institutions ranging from Stanford, Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities to Dartmouth College and others all have moved this spring to exclusively Pass/No Pass systems, or their equivalent. At Northwestern the decision to go to Pass/No Pass was made in part because it was seen as more equitable for all.

For example, some institutions, including Harvard Medical School, have reported that they will consider Pass grades during this period as long as it is the only option available to undergraduate students. If both letter grades and Pass/No Pass are allowed at an individual school during this time, Harvard said letter grades would be preferred for applicants. So going to an optional situation could put Northwestern students at a disadvantage.

12. What are the grading options for students unable to finish a class in Spring Quarter?

This will depend on when in the term the student becomes unable to participate, how much class time and coursework has been missed and the nature of the course. Generally, this situation will be treated as it normally would, but faculty should consult with departmental and school-level leadership, as needed, while students may consult their instructors, advisers, and program and school-level resources.  (Updated 5/11/20)