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Your Guide To Penn State’s Spring 2021 Alternative Grading System

As hard as it may be to believe, Penn State’s third semester at Zoom University has finally come to a close.

Another semester of virtual learning prompted Penn State to reimplement its alternative grading system that debuted a year ago. Through it, students can make changes to earned grades to salvage their GPAs and transcripts and account for any challenges online learning might’ve brought to the table.

Before you crunch the numbers yourself and beg your professor for a bump-up, do yourself a favor and read up on Penn State’s modified grading system.

What Are Alternative Grades?

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.

How Can I Select Alternative Grades?

Starting Wednesday, May 12, students can head over to LionPATH to implement any desired alternative grades. Selections must be finalized by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, May 21.

To swap out any grades, visit LionPATH and select “Spring 2021 Alternative Grade Calculator & Request” under the grading dropdown.

The page also features a handy-dandy GPA calculator. You can use the tool to investigate how their GPAs will or won’t be affected by opting for alternative grades. To use it, 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 that 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 notice your selected courses were changed.

If you have any Academic Integrity violations racked up on your record, 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 students to opt into any alternative grades this semester. Professors and advisers can’t require you to take them or implement them, though. Students need 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 can’t control how third parties view alternative grades, especially if they’re used in consecutive semesters.

Penn State says students considering additional education should 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.

Does alternative grading impact entrance to major requirements?

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.

Is there a limit to the number of alternative grades a student can use?

No, there isn’t a cap on the number of courses you convert to alternative grading. However, it’s best to keep as many grades as you can and convert only the classes you definitely need to.

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. 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. You can read more about the nitty-gritty details of alternative grades here.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt is a senior 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 and "Arrested Development" quotes. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ if you hate yourself or email Matt at [email protected] if you hate him.

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