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School of Medicine, other graduate schools say S/U grades will not affect admissions

No letter grades? No problem. 

In light of the transition to online learning, Duke provided undergraduate students the option to take their Spring 2020 courses Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory or for a letter grade. Other colleges and universities around the country have moved to some form of mandatory or optional pass/fail grading.

Duke’s School of Medicine, School of Law, Fuqua School of Business, Graduate School and Sanford School of Public Policy stated on websites, told students or told The Chronicle that they would not penalize applicants who took classes S/U, or on other pass/fail grading scales, this semester. 

School of Medicine

The School of Medicine will be performing a “holistic review” of all applicants, according to an April 13 email to students from the Academic Advising Center, a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle.

The School of Medicine “will be flexible with grading for the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters. We will accept letter grades, P/F grades, S/U grades, withdraws, etc,” the email stated. “Whatever decision you make regarding grading during this pandemic will not negatively impact your application in any way.”

When it comes to other schools, the Office of Health Professions Advising’s pre-health FAQ states that traditionally most graduate programs in health professions want applicants to take prehealth prerequisite courses for grades. There is not a clear consensus from graduate programs as to whether they will accept S/U grades, according to the FAQ.

The FAQ advises students applying to these programs to “proceed in classes as if you are receiving a grade.” It includes links to crowdsourced documents with the policies of various dental schools, medical schools and other institutions.

Linton Yee, associate dean for admissions at the School of Medicine, did not respond to a request for comment.

School of Law

Duke Law switched to a mandatory Credit/No Credit system for the Spring 2020 semester, according to the school’s website. Applicants whose grades reflect similar policies will not be negatively impacted when their applications are being evaluated, according to the website. 

“Whether you were required to take your courses on a CR/NC basis, or whether you chose to do so, please be assured that the lack of traditional letter grades for the spring 2020 term will have no negative impact on our evaluation of your application for admission,” the website reads.

In evaluating applications, the admissions team will continue to consider other factors, including letters of recommendation, essays, “potential for leadership,” test scores and more, according to the website.

Applicants are encouraged to “submit information about the reasons for any weaker grades in a particular term,” such as injury, illness or family emergencies, William Hoye, associate dean of admissions and student affairs at the Law School, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. 

“We would certainly understand that many students have not been in a position to perform to the best of their abilities this semester, and we would take that into consideration in our admission review,” Hoye wrote.

Fuqua School of Business

Ruskin Morgan, senior associate dean of full-time MBA programs and professor of the practice of business administration at Fuqua, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that Fuqua will “be flexible and will evaluate applicants with the knowledge that nothing over this last term or semester has been normal.”

“The choice to take classes pass/fail during this period will not be diagnostic of the aptitude to succeed and fit our culture and will not have any bearing on our admissions decisions,” Morgan wrote. “We have always looked at applicants’ records with an empathetic eye that is focused on getting to know each student’s story and the COVID-19 period will be just one chapter in a much longer narrative for each student.”

He added that the Fuqua application will include an optional essay that allows applicants to share any information that could explain why their grades might not have been up to par this semester. 

Morgan also noted that “grades are just one part of Fuqua’s holistic approach in evaluating candidates.”

In making the decision to accept pass/fail grades this semester, Morgan told The Chronicle that it was what the Fuqua admissions team felt best supported the school’s mission and values.

“Through our admissions process we hope to recruit and admit the next generation of students that are academically prepared, will live our values, and contribute to making those around them better,” Morgan wrote.

He added that failing to take into consideration the “unique and challenging conditions students are in currently” would oppose these goals and that he looks forward to hearing the positive stories that students will hopefully be able to tell after COVID-19.

“Those stories will speak to true, authentic character and will be what we rely on for evaluating their fit at Fuqua,” Morgan told The Chronicle.

Graduate School

The admissions website for the Graduate School reads that “Duke will not penalize applicants whose transcripts show Pass/No Pass or other similar grading options from Spring 2020, regardless of whether it was the individual student or the institution that chose a particular option.”

When evaluating students’ academic performance, the Graduate School will primarily focus on grades before and after the Spring 2020 semester, according to the website.

The website also emphasized the school’s “holistic approach” to evaluating the decisions of applicants and noted that they are “interested in the potential of our graduate students to make significant research contributions, which is often not reflected in grades, and certainly not in one semester’s achievements.”

Sanford School of Public Policy

Like the Graduate School, the Sanford School of Public Policy’s website states that the University “will not penalize applicants whose transcripts show Pass/No Pass or other similar grading options from Spring 2020, regardless of whether it was the individual student or the institution that chose a particular option.”

Sanford hopes to admit applicants with the potential to “make significant, real world policy contributions, which is often not reflected in grades,” the statement reads. They will continue basing admissions on their “holistic approach”, which includes personal statements, personal accomplishments, test scores and letters of recommendation. 


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