Shadow Grading FAQs

What is shadow grading?

For a period of six years beginning in the fall of 2014, students in the first semester of their first year will be graded Pass/No Pass in all of their classes. They will also, however, be given a report of the letter grades that they would have received (‘shadow grades’), which will not appear on their official transcripts. A grade of D or above is a passing grade.

First semester students will be ‘graded as usual’ in their classes, and faculty will submit these grades to the registrar. The registrar will retain these grades for internal use only and will not release them outside of the College. Official student transcripts will specifically note that all grades in the first semester are mandatory Pass/No Pass.

Why did Wellesley decide to implement shadow grading?

Refocus attention from grades to intellectual engagement. The transition to college marks a time when students can broaden their definition of academic success to include intellectual engagement, inspiration, and risk-taking; experience the joy of discovery and challenging oneself; and forge meaningful intellectual relationships with faculty. Wellesley is committed to providing the framework for students to make such a transition, and shadow grades provide a clear statement that college is different from high school.

Commitment to the core elements of a liberal education. The strength of a liberal arts education is in the development of intellectual skills and habits that allow students to engage a wide-ranging curriculum while they are here and a complicated and rapidly changing world when they leave. Shadow grading allows students and their teachers to focus on progress toward those goals and not just on how many of them are met by semester's end.

Manage time and balance commitments. Moving from the highly structured and supervised environment of high school to the more independent and self-managed work environment at college is challenging for most new students. Shadow grading first semester will better enable first-year students to focus on adjusting to their new environment, making thoughtful decisions, and creating a complementary balance within their academic commitments and social activities.

Grades can provide meaningful information to students about their academic performance. What kind of feedback will students receive in their courses that are shadow graded?

Although first semester grades will not be recorded on official transcripts, first semester student work will, in most courses, be graded. These shadow grades will provide first-year students with the opportunity to learn about the standards for academic achievement at Wellesley and to assess the quality of their work in relation to those standards. In addition, first year students will benefit from commentary on their oral and written work, meetings with faculty in office hours, and other forms of assessment regularly associated with the range of courses in the liberal arts.

Will shadow grades be included in the calculation of a student's Wellesley grade point average?

No. First semester grades will not be used to calculate a student's GPA.

What notation system will be used on the official transcript of first year first semester students?

Grades of D or above will appear as “P” (passing) on the official transcript; grades of F will appear as “NP” (not passing).

Will any courses taken after the first semester use shadow grading?

No. Only courses taken during a firstyear student's first semester at Wellesley will be shadow graded.

Who besides the instructor and the student will know what the shadow grades are? 

Because first semester grades are useful to the advising process, they will be shared with the Dean of First Year Students and first year advisors.

What will grades look like in first semester courses that enroll both first year and upperclass students?

In letter-graded courses, all students will receive letter grades at the end of the semester. For first year students in the fall semester, these letter grades will not appear on their official transcripts; instead they will be recorded as P (if D or above) or NP (if the grade is an F). For all other students, letter grades will appear on their transcripts as usual.

In mandatory credit/no credit courses, first year students in the fall semester will receive a grade of P (if the final grade is D or above) or NP (if the grade is an F). All other students will receive a grade of MCR (if the final grade is C or above) or MNCR (if the final grade is C- or below).

How will graduate and professional schools view the shadow grading policy? Won’t medical schools, in particular, be concerned about not seeing grades for science courses taken in the first semester?

A Cover Letter from the Provost's Office explaining Wellesley’s grading policies accompanies every transcript sent out by the Registrar. We know that other colleges and universities with similar first semester grading policies have sent generations of students to graduate and medical schools and that they are rarely asked by these schools to report first semester grades. We expect Wellesley students will continue to be successful in gaining admission to graduate and professional programs and will continue to communicate clearly our policy not to include first semester grades on the official College transcript.

Will Wellesley ever release first semester grades outside of the College?

Although Wellesley will never release first year grades, first semester grades as part of a student’s official transcript, there are two situations in which a student may petition the Dean of First Year Students to make these grades known to external audiences:

1) In cases where a student is applying for or renewing scholarship assistance from an organization that requires first year, first semester grade reports, the Dean may notify the organization that the student has met the GPA standard required in order to continue to receive scholarship assistance. In cases where organizations require specific course grades, the student may petition the Dean to make her first semester, first year grades known to the schools to the funding organization. A letter from the scholarship granting organization must state that the application cannot be considered without actual grades.

2) In cases where a student is applying to transfer from Wellesley during her second semester at the College (and thus would not yet have grades recorded on her official transcript), the student may petition the Dean to make her first semester, first year grades known to the schools to which she is applying. Once grades from the spring term or additional semesters have been added to the transcript, the shadow grades will not be released.

How will the College know if shadow grading is achieving its goals?

Wellesley’s Committee on Curriculum and Academic Policy (CCAP) is responsible for monitoring the effects of the shadow grading policy and will make regular reports to faculty, students and staff assessing its impacts. This assessment will include survey and interview data from both students and faculty, analyses of first semester enrollment patterns, as well as other small-scale and discipline-specific studies.