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Your Guide To Penn State’s Fall 2020 Alternative Grading System

As hard as it may be to believe, Penn State’s second semester at Zoom University is finally coming to a close.

Another semester of virtual learning prompted Penn State to reimplement its alternative grading system that debuted last spring. Through it, students can make changes to earned grades so they won’t have any adverse effects on GPAs and transcripts.

But before you crunch the numbers and heave up a prayer asking your professor to round up that 89.48, do yourself a favor and catch up on the changes Penn State’s made to fall 2020 course grades.

What Are Alternative Grades?

Penn State will give students the option to swap our earned course grades for alternative grades to accommodate the challenges presented by remote learning.

Students will have the option to replace earned letter grades in any of their courses with one of three alternative grades:

  • SAT (Satisfactory) — This grade is available if you earn a C or better in a course. SAT grades meet all C or better conditions, including entrance to major requirements and prerequisites.
  • V (Pass) — This grade is available if you earn a D or better in a course and is considered to be a passing grade. You’ll still earn credits for courses with V grades. They can be used to meet requirements for which D is an acceptable grade.
  • Z (No Grade) — This grade is available if you earn an F in a course. Zs can be used to replace Fs and will be treated the same as a Late Drop (LD) grade.

“Learning is measured in additional ways beyond GPA, and students considering any alternative grades should meet with their academic advisor to consider the potential implications of using alternative grades on future academic and professional pursuits – including future applications to graduate, law or medical school, applications to professional licensing organizations, and employment opportunities,” Penn State said in a statement.

How Can I Select Alternative Grades?

Starting Tuesday, December 23, students can head over to LionPATH to implement any desired alternative grades. Selections must be finalized by midnight on January 12.

To swap out any grades, visit LionPATH and select “Fall 2020 Alternative Grade Calculator & Request” under the grading dropdown.

The page also features a handy-dandy GPA calculator. Students are advised to use the tool to investigate how their GPAs will or won’t be affected by opting into alternative grades. To use the calculator, check off the alternative grades you’re thinking about taking, hit “calculate,” and examine how things change.

Once you’ve calculated, you’ll see a new box at the bottom of the page featuring your estimated semester GPA, estimated cumulative GPA, and total credits earned. Remember, SATs and Vs will count for credit, while Zs will not.

When you’re ready to move on, submit the request at the bottom. You’ll then be brought to a final screen to double-check selections. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll return to the previous page and should notice your selected courses were changed.

If you have any Academic Integrity violations racked up, your courses will be reviewed manually and may take longer to be approved. You won’t be able to take alternative grades in any courses where AI violations occurred.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are alternative grades mandatory?

Not in the slightest. It’s completely up to student to opt into any alternative grades this semester. Professors and advisers can’t require you to take them or implement them, though. It’s up to students to be proactive, assess their semester, and choose what’s best for them.

Who’s eligible for alternative grades?

Modified grading is available for all undergraduate students, including those taking World Campus classes. The option also applies to student-athletes and undergrads taking a mix of undergraduate and graduate courses.

The Schreyer Honors College will review students’ GPAs to determine if they’re in good standing with the program. Scholars are advised to “carefully weigh” whether alternative grading is right for them.

How do alternative grades look to employers, grad programs, or law schools?

That’s a tough one. It’s important to remember that Penn State has no control over how third parties view alternative grades, especially if they’re used in consecutive semesters.

Penn State advises students considering additional education to try maintaining their letter grades, even if they may lower their GPAs, to keep transcripts intact. However, there’s really nothing wrong with taking advantage of the system provided for you and taking the necessary steps to keep your transcript afloat.

No matter what, it’s best to talk to your adviser before making any selections. Advisers won’t be available while Penn State is on winter break, though. The university will close on Thursday, December 24, and reopen on Monday, January 4.

Does alternative grading impact entrance to major requirements?

Just like last spring, selecting alternative grades won’t prevent students from entering majors that are academically controlled. Credits earned in courses using alternative grading count toward semester standing. SAT grades, meanwhile, will satisfy C-or-better requirements.

Again, it’s best to speak with your adviser to determine if using an alternative grade is right for you. Requirements vary from major to major, and the last thing you’ll need is getting screwed over by a tricky, fine-print clause that keeps you out of your major for another semester.

For specifics on every major’s requirements, read over this Penn State forum.

Will alternative grading impact scholarships or financial aid?

Most scholarships are based on academic achievements and GPAs. As such, using alternative grading could make students ineligible for awards.

Generally, alternative grades shouldn’t affect students’ financial aid in any way. According to the university, federal and state Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) reviews will continue evaluating credits that are completed versus those that aren’t. Remember, SAT grades and V grades will count as completed credits, while Zs will not.

Students who opt into alternative grades for every course, and thus wind up with a 0.0 GPA, could be at risk to lose considerations for financial aid.

Can I make Dean’s List if I choose alternative grades?

To be considered, you’ll need to post a transcript with at least 12 credits carrying standard letter grades.


As always, reaching out to your academic adviser will help clear up any confusion with Penn State’s modified grading this semester. You can read more about the nitty-gritty details of the alternative grades here.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt is a junior majoring in journalism and Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football aficionado, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza. He loves Seinfeld, is really into video games, and would wipe the floor with you in Halo. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ for bad sports takes or email him at [email protected]

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