The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News pass/fail system replaced with grades, students respond
Emma Liu

Since the start of Northeastern’s program over a decade and a half ago, students sent abroad for their first semester of college would receive a separate GPA for their classes at their affiliated universities and would not receive their Northeastern GPA until completing their second semester at the university’s Boston campus.

But last semester, the university announced that the grades students received while studying abroad would be reflected in their GPA and on academic transcripts at Northeastern. The change garnered mixed reactions from students, some of whom viewed the study abroad experience as a time to focus on exploring their respective locations and not worrying about grades. Others said the new system could boost their undergraduate GPA, making applying for jobs and pursuing further education easier. 

The previous pass/fail system had been a point of contention for students for years, especially amid changes to the program implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when students stayed in Boston due to pandemic restrictions and took the same classes as those admitted into the regular university program, students were graded with the pass/fail system typically used at study abroad locations. 

In 2020, a petition to change the system created by a fall 2020 admit received over 300 signatures. Despite this, the program kept the same grading system until fall 2023, when students were notified after committing to the program that the grades they received while studying abroad would be reflected in their GPA and on academic transcripts. The university did not answer questions from The News about why they decided to change the grading system or whether student input had any weight in the decision.

Traditionally, transfer credits at universities do not impact GPAs at the new school when students transfer from one college to another.

Many students responded positively to this change, saying that transforming the grading system to reflect students’ grades during their time abroad allowed them to push themselves academically.

“I think making the classes pass/fail would make the classes a lot easier,” said Vinay Pillai, a first-year computer science major who participated in Madrid in fall 2023. “I like how since it was GPA-based, we were forced to pay attention in classes, and we couldn’t just slack off.”

For other students, this change felt sudden. Students participating in the fall 2023 program said they weren’t notified until after committing to the program and finalizing their classes, leaving them to feel unprepared. 

“Why change it for the year [if] you already told [us it] was going to be pass or fail?” said Austin Grimaldi, a first-year journalism and media and screen studies combined major who participated in Ireland in fall 2023. “Do it for the next year and tell them it’s not going to be pass/ fail.”

A significant aspect of the study abroad program is what the university calls “experiential learning.” Rather than solely learning from classes, students grow through their experiences of traveling around their location, meeting local people and adapting to cultural changes. 

Some students felt the new grading system would have limited them in these experiences.

“If you are abroad, you should enjoy your time more and not study as much as you should when you are focused on GPA,” said Joshua Lee, a second-year business administration major who participated in Rome in fall 2022.

Other students who participated in prior to the fall 2023 semester also had conflicting thoughts about the change. While many felt upset the switch was not implemented during their semester, others felt grateful that they did not have to spend as much time studying and could instead focus on other activities, such as traveling to different cities and visiting landmarks.

In Rome, students had classes Monday through Thursday, giving them a three-day weekend to explore the city and travel.

“When I realized that the classes were just pass or fail and my GPA technically starts from the beginning once I got to Boston, that was a real game changer because I took in the experience of a lot better,” said Victoria Caspare, a third-year business administration major who participated in Rome in fall 2022. “We definitely had that global experience of being able to go to different cities and countries throughout our three-day weekends. I think that if I didn’t know that my GPA [would start in] Boston, I wouldn’t have also grasped the opportunity that the program gave when I was there.”

With the previous pass/fail system, students said they also had more time to meet peers in the same cohort and location they were in.

“I studied at John Cabot University with 200 other Northeastern students, and I knew all 200 Northeastern students,” Caspare said. “​​I definitely took on more opportunities. I think anyone would do that just because you’re not strictly focused on your work, but rather taking in that you’re in a foreign country for four months, and you’re trying to enjoy yourself and meet new people.” 

Even after Northeastern implemented the grading change, several students felt the format of their universities was still centered around a pass/fail system. When submitting an assignment that was purely writing or presentation-based, there was little-to-no cushion between receiving a passing or failing mark.

“It was basically pass or fail because the courses I took were either like you get an A or you get an F,” Grimaldi said.

Additionally, the grading system at several participating partner universities differs greatly from schools in the United States. At the University College Dublin in Ireland, an A+ ranges from 80 to 100, an A ranges from 70 to 79 and an A- ranges from 65 to 69. 

“What’s considered an A or a B [in Ireland] is much different from America,” Grimaldi said. “You can have grades either inflated or deflated because of how the local grading system works. We would have students give their all on an assignment, and they would get a B, and the professor would be like, ‘I just don’t give out A’s.’ And that’s not fair. That was frustrating for a lot of students I knew in the program.”

Aside from getting used to the different grading systems, many students also found themselves adjusting to different learning styles at the affiliated universities.

“I think my classes were a lot easier; they were not very hard,” Pillai said. “In Spain, there weren’t a lot of assignments. They just taught us, and then we had our midterms and our finals. There weren’t any assignments, quizzes or tests. It was definitely less of a time commitment, but it also meant that the midterms and the finals were weighted significantly. ”

In addition to the different studying habits some acquired during the program, many students had to pick up unrelated classes that didn’t satisfy their NUPath requirements, including a location-specific required culture class. While students said many of these classes tended to be easier, it forced them to reconsider their plans for future courses and semesters.

“Northeastern didn’t want us to take computer science classes [in Spain] because they wanted us to learn computer science [in Boston], so I was taking relatively easier classes over there,” Pillai said. 

Despite the new grading change, students who participated in the program agreed it was an enriching and fulfilling experience.

“I had fun,” Grimaldi said. “The actual program itself was well-run, and I appreciated the advisors we had. I thought it was a very unique way to start off my college experience.”

About the Contributor
Emma Liu, Deputy Design Editor
Emma Liu is a second-year behavioral neuroscience and design major. She is currently working as the deputy design editor for The News. Originally from Philadelphia, Emma loves to collect sonny angels, volunteer at local orgs and find good food in her free time.
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