Adapting to the demands of university lifestyle is certainly daunting for incoming students who are new to navigating the challenges of adulthood. While simultaneously learning to understand personal independence and responsibilities in their young adult lives, students must also often accept that simple grades will continue to capture–or rather, misrepresent–the value of their performance and all of the competent effort they make during their enrollment in rigorous upper division courses.
College campuses have put forth great energy to remedy the stress and anxiety that grades produce in the student body by seeking alternative methods of assigning results at the end of the term. Some examples include “pass/no pass (P/NP)” or “pass/fail (P/F)” marks; both are strategies which fall under the umbrella of what is now referred to in academia as “un-grading,” a process to move away from traditional A-F letter grades.¹ ² It is unlikely that professors will completely do away with assessments and methods of awarding objective points based on different class criteria (verbal and written exams, essays, projects, homework etc.). However, it is still undeniably important for continued discussions regarding what grades truly represent and how the A-F system affects student mental health, especially given the present circumstances following the peak of the pandemic. ²
Grades, which play such an immense role in high school evaluation and university admission, weigh heavy pressures on college Freshman and college-bound students in grades 9-12 alike. At all stages of schooling, students associate the finality of grades with several strong emotions–including, but not limited to: insecurity (low sense of self worth or experiences of impostor syndrome), doubt (overthinking their professional interests and chosen field of study), and fear (rooted in a deep concern of failure to advance).² ³
First-year high school students (9th graders) have a small buffer at least when it comes to stressing out about producing stellar marks from the outset of their secondary education. This is because UC’s only count course grades beginning from the summer after 9th grade through the summer after 11th grade towards the calculation of the University of California Grade Point Average (UC GPA), the GPA evaluated for admission at one of the 9 undergraduate UC campuses.⁴ ⁵ Cal State Universities (CSUs) follow a similar pattern of evaluation at their 23 campuses, considering only grades in courses after 9th grade.⁶ ⁷ This could very well be because there are several other factors that can be contemplated in the college admission process, such as essays, extracurricular activities, and/or whether the courses completed are specially designated as advanced-level vs on-level.
Nevertheless, Freshman grades matter because high schoolers need to remain on track to complete all of the A-G requirements or college-preparatory courses. ⁴ The “A-G courses” refer to the minimum high school course requirements for college admission in the History and Social Science, English, Math, Laboratory Science, Language Other Than English, Visual and Performing Arts, and College Preparatory Elective subject areas. ⁶ Additionally, students must be ready to present the extent of information necessary in the event of reporting their GPA. This crucial step has to be fulfilled as accurately as possible and often involves having official, sealed high school transcripts on-hand for submission (or mailed directly from their high school guidance office) to college admission offices or college application platforms such as the Common App.⁸ Transcripts, of course, include the details of every secondary grade level completed, including the students’ first year of highschool. For these reasons, 9th graders cannot wholly disregard their grade-level achievements since students must, in all cases, perform well enough to earn credit for freshman high school classes.⁹
Secondary students’ chances of success at universities are weighed on varying criteria, including grades, by college admission boards. Meanwhile, college campuses study undergraduate students’ performance to determine their readiness to advance into the real world of employment and financial gain, or perhaps into higher-level stages of learning. Yet, it is not always clear from simply reviewing the students’ high school achievements if incoming university Freshman are equipped with the tools to master the rigor of post-secondary education even if they excelled in their A-G classes. Not only does university life often come with additional stressors that are not necessarily present in high school (such as having to get a part-time job to obtain school supplies or to pay commuting and housing fees), but there is also a constant demand for students to be defined by grades. An exploration of “un-grading” methods will perhaps ease both the evaluation of college-bound high schoolers and the transition into more advanced stages of education for newly admitted college students.
By: Daisy Ocampo