Students must consult with academic adviser to change courses to satisfactory/no credit


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Pitt to allow students to exchange letter grades for either a satisfactory/no credit mark for spring semester courses.

By Charlotte Pearse, Staff Writer

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Daniel Zunino, a senior chemical engineering major and chief of staff for SGB, said he was initially excited when he learned about the option to take classes on a satisfactory/no credit basis. But he soon worried that an S might not look favorable on transcripts when applying to graduate school.

“Most institutions have been very empathetic in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I honestly don’t know if this will continue to be true years down the line,” Zunino said. “Even if they recognize that the S grade is due to extenuating circumstances, there is still the possibility that it could count against you.”

Pitt switched to remote learning in early March as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. Provost Ann Cudd later announced in a University-wide March 20 email that students could request to convert their letter grades to satisfactory or no credit by May 11, one week after grades are posted on May 4. While S/NC courses have long been a grade scale offered at Pitt, normally students only have until the end of the add/drop period to choose this option.

An S grade will count toward graduation and degree requirements, as well as satisfy course prerequisites, while an NC grade will not satisfy any requirements. Neither S or NC courses will affect a student’s GPA because it is calculated entirely from letter grades.

University Registrar Patti Mathay said students have one week to request to change their letter grade to either S or NC once final letter grades are posted on May 4. She said students should work with their academic adviser or respective school’s dean’s office to process the change.

“Each school will collect the information needed for the grade changes and send them to the Registrar’s Office for processing,” Mathay said. “My office will update the grades in the system as they are received.”

Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean for academic affairs at the Swanson School of Engineering, said satisfactory/no credit is not the same as a pass/fail grading system. She said the S and NC have corresponding letter grades for both undergraduate and graduate level classes.

“For undergraduate classes, a C or better grade corresponds to S, and for a C- or lower grade corresponds to NC,” Besterfield-Sacre said. “For graduate classes, this conversion differs somewhat by school, but in many cases an S corresponds to a grade of B or better, while an NC corresponds to a grade of B- or lower.”

This grading scale has significant advantages for students, according to Joe McCarthy, the vice provost for undergraduate studies. He said S grades show that a student has reached proficiency in the subject, while a “pass” grade does not always convey this.

“The ‘no credit’ grade is also superior to the ‘fail’ choice because it does not reduce a student’s GPA,” McCarthy said. “It instead signals a student did not attain proficiency in the subject and may need to retake the course.”

Besterfield-Sacre added that it is important for students to consult with their academic advisers before changing a course to S/NC. She said a student’s individual circumstances will vary based on their major and possible desire to attend graduate school.

“The rapid changes in completing the semester given the COVID-19 pandemic has substantially impacted students’ learning environments,” Besterfield-Sacre said. “It is highly advised that a student who thinks they may wish to change a course letter grade to a S/NC, speak with an adviser who can assist in determining if the change in grade is in the best interest of the student.”

Besterfield-Sacre said for students who received a poor grade and would need to repeat a class, the S/NC option might be the best choice. But she said it wouldn’t be favorable for students if the S/NC grade might impede future graduate school options that require letter grades in certain courses or affect scholarship eligibility.

But despite Zunino’s worries about this grading system for students looking to attend graduate school, he said the S/NC grading option is a great idea for most students.

“I know a lot of people — mostly non-students — are criticizing it as a free pass for students to slack in their classes. I don’t think this is true at all,” Zunino said. “Most students are still trying to maintain their grades to boost their GPA, and I think most are viewing the option only as a safety net.”