Alternative grade processes available for undergraduates and graduates

April 20, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —  For the spring 2021 semester, optional alternative grading is available for undergraduate students, and there is an exception process available for graduate students who wish to request optional alternative grades.

All students are strongly encouraged to talk with their academic advisers as they make decisions about whether to use alternative grades. Undergraduate students should continue to use alternative grading very cautiously and to pay considerable attention to the potential long-term implications of this decision, especially for the selection of SAT grades.

Penn State’s undergraduate alternative grade system is an opt-in system meant to provide flexibility for undergraduate students who may be facing significant challenges while learning during the pandemic. There are no limits on the number of courses for which students can use alternative grades, though there are some restrictions in specific entrance-to-major (ETM) courses as well as for some major courses. Taking an alternative grade for a course will remove that course from GPA calculation on the student’s transcript.

“This is an imperfect solution to an imperfect situation,” said Jeff Adams, Policies Influencing Equity task force member and associate vice president and associate dean for undergraduate education, when the alternative grading announcement was made in January. “Although we recommend reimplementing the policy for spring semester, alternative grading does pose some real problems that we are concerned about.” Adams cited the potential negative impact of using alternative grading on students’ future professional and academic goals, as well as the impact of alternative grading on students’ ability to enter GPA-controlled majors, as some of the task force’s concerns.

After faculty submit final grades, undergraduates will be able to make their alternative grade selections in LionPATH from May 12 to 21.

The Graduate School announced in March that graduate students will be able to apply for alternative grades through an exception process, similar to the process used in fall 2020. More information on how to apply for exceptions can be found here.

At the meeting of the Penn State Faculty Senate on April 27, the PIE task force recommended that the Senate not enact an alternative grading policy for the upcoming summer semester. At this time, there are no plans to offer alternative grades once the current spring 2021 semester has concluded.

Undergraduate student process explained

Students will be able to access an online alternative grade tool in LionPATH starting Wednesday, May 12, the day after faculty grade reporting deadline. Students will then have until 11:59 p.m. (ET) May 21 to finalize any alternative grade selections.

The full system and alternative grading choices can be found at

  • SAT (Satisfactory). This grade will be available if a student earns a C or better in a course. A course with an SAT grade can be used to meet prerequisites requiring a C or better.
  • V (Pass). This grade, which will be available if a student earns a D in a course, will be considered a passing grade. The student will earn credits for the course, and a V grade can be used to meet requirements for which D is an acceptable grade. The V grade cannot be used to meet C-or-better requirements.
  • Z (No Grade). This grade will be available if a student earns an F in a course. Z can be used to replace an F grade and will be treated similar to a Late Drop (LD).

For more information on alternative grading, visit

Last Updated April 28, 2021