Uncovering grades puts Class of 2021 at a disadvantage

By TIM LYU | September 14, 2017

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FILE PHOTO Lyu argues that uncovering grades could have many consequences for freshmen.

The Class of 2021 is the first class since 1971 that is without the privilege of covered grades at Hopkins. In June 2016, the Homewood Academic Council announced that the University would discontinue its renowned policy under which first-semester freshmen receive only an S for satisfactory (a letter grade of C- or above) or a U for unsatisfactory instead of conventional letter grades.

Besides offering new humor to the University’s Facebook meme page, uncovering freshman grades does have certain other advantages. Covered grades have been said to negatively impact freshmen’s willingness to work hard by overextending former high school seniors’ relaxed last semesters.

Taking covered grades away halts that relaxation and asks freshmen to work hard immediately. Given the competitive nature of Hopkins, uncovering grades also gives freshmen who perform well a head start in building up their GPAs.

Furthermore, the University’s recent development in orientation events, various academic support programs and the Counseling Center might fulfil the original purpose of covered grades to some extent — to make the transition from high school to college smoother for freshmen.

Nevertheless, the merits of uncovering grades also come at a high opportunity cost. Uncovering grades has its own disadvantages, the first being the potential for decreased curiosity in freshmen. GPA — a number between zero and four — does not and should not define education.

Instead, Hopkins prides itself on being “Driven by Curiosity.” However, without covered grades, I am less likely to challenge myself and take courses in unfamiliar academic departments. This might not hold true for every freshman, but uncovering grades does exaggerate the significance of GPA to a limited degree.

While promoting academic conscientiousness, it also discourages freshmen from venturing out of their comfort zones and living up to the University’s slogan of curiosity.

Now take a look at the student body of Class of 2021. According to The Hub, 10 percent of the Class of 2021 consists of first-generation college students while 7.3 percent are international students. As an international student from China, I went to a boarding school in the U.S. for the last four years, which supposedly prepared me for college life.

Nonetheless, during my first week of classes, I was still surprised by the amount of school work and independent studying Hopkins demands. I could not imagine how much more challenging it would be for someone who doesn’t have the privilege of attending a preparatory school or for someone who comes directly from another country with different languages and social customs.

Covered grades give these students the time and space to adapt to the social scene at Hopkins, find a cozy study spot and develop a comprehensive set of academic skills without having to worry about excelling academically in classes right away.

As someone who has been through all of this four years ago, I know the adaptation will not be resolved by a five-day orientation. Similarly, the process of academic transition will not evaporate with PILOT sessions (in which spots were filled out very quickly). Finally, the increased mental stress of more than 1300 students will not be addressed entirely by the Counseling Center.

Another Hub statistic: 93 percent of students from the Class of 2021 were in the top 10 percent of their class. Known for its academic rigor, Hopkins attracts some of the best students from around the globe.

The trust goes both ways: The University should also be patient and believe in its students’ willingness to adapt and work decently hard, even with covered grades. Moreover, freshmen will still be able to see their letter grade and know what to expect starting in the spring.

Some freshmen also try to strategize and take harder classes during their covered grades period that won’t necessarily impact their GPA. Uncovering grades means that this safety net will no longer be present.

In general, I believe the drawbacks of uncovering grades outweigh its benefits. As a member of the class directly impacted by this change in policy, I wish I could get involved in the conversation in one way or another. But what’s done cannot be undone, and the consequences of uncovering grades won’t be understood until we look at the statistics of our class four years later.

As a member of a prestigious research university, I’d like to participate in this social experiment and am curious about its outcome. Optimistically, the uncovering of freshman grades gives us the opportunity to discover how we can improve as a community to ease the transition to college life and improve various other support programs for students.

As President Daniels said at Convocation, the Class of 2021 will not only aspire to “be the class that bridges divides,” but we will do so without covered grades.

Tim Lyu is a freshman who plans to be a Writing Seminars major. He is from Hangzhou, China.

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