GPA calculator tool can be used to factor for alternative grading

April 22, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State recently released instructions on how to use the GPA Calculator tool in LionPATH to help undergraduates at the University estimate how decisions on using alternative grades will impact their GPAs (grade point averages).

The GPA Calculator is available now for students to explore until May 20, at which time the Alternative Grade Calculator and Request Tool will become available. 

The alternative grading system was released earlier in the spring 2020 semester after Penn State moved to remote instruction in response to COVID-19. Recognizing that the virus and its effects would have a huge disruption in the learning of undergraduates, administrators and faculty at Penn State worked to develop the alternative grading system and reduce harm to cumulative GPAs.

Penn State is currently working to develop a new LionPATH Alternative Grade Calculator and Request Tool to allow students to make their alternative grade selections once final grades are posted. This will be available starting May 20, and students will have from then until May 29 to finalize their selections. Additional news stories and detailed instructions for students will be provided once the tool is available.

Meanwhile, the LionPATH GPA Calculator can help students explore how selections in the alternative grading system will affect their GPAs. After logging in to LionPATH, students can select "Degree Planning and Progress" from the menu, then "GPA Calculator" on the next menu.

Under “Class Information,” users can use the “+” symbol to add a row for each course they are enrolled in, enter the number of credits for each class, and estimate final grades. After running the calculation, students can see the effect the current semester will have on their cumulative GPA.

To see the effects of selecting the alternative grading system for a particular course, users need only set “Class Units” to zero or delete the row altogether.

The alternative grading system gives much of the control over to students by allowing them to opt in — on a course-by-course basis — after their instructors submit their final grades at the end of the semester. This way, if students are successful in their courses they are able to retain the normal letter grade (sometimes referred to as a “quality grade”). Inversely, if the letter grade would hurt a student’s GPA they are able to select a grade of Satisfactory if they earned a C or better, V if they earned a D, and Z (no grade) if they earned an F in the course. These alternative grades are not included in Penn State's calculation of a student's GPA. 

Due to additional factors such as entrance-to-major requirements, student aid ramifications, licensing and credentialing bodies, and entrance to graduate schools, students should consider on a course-by-course basis whether using alternative grading is the best decision for their overall academic and career goals. Students are encouraged to consult with their adviser to help with decision making.

Students wishing to retain their letter grade needn't take action after final grades are posted. Students wishing to elect one or more alternative grade(s) must do so between May 20 and May 29, 2020.

It is important for students to note that Penn State does not have control over how external bodies will interpret grades submitted during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the FAQ page of the alternative grading website, “many in the advising community believe that the prudent advice is for students to continue to work toward strong letter grades, especially in key courses related to their programs of study.”

Penn State Undergraduate Education is the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated April 27, 2020