Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Covered grades are a double-edged sword

By SAMMY BHATIA | March 31, 2016



Collectively, I probably put in no more than 30 to 40 hours of real work over the course of first semester. In comparison, I drank 30 to 40 alcoholic beverages per week. I blew through my allowance for the semester well before Thanksgiving — mostly in Uber charges, Subway sandwiches and cash withdrawals — as my hobbies grew increasingly illicit. By Christmas, I forgot what it felt like to put pen to paper. My brain had spent the past three months marinating in its own sloth, ripened with “experiences,” as I would call them, instead of with knowledge. At one point, my extended group of friends started to joke about who could achieve the lowest GPA while still passing all their courses. And let me tell you, I came close to winning that competition.

The privilege to attend college in America (and it really is, no matter how sick you are of hearing it, a privilege) comes with several implicit responsibilities. And of the many, the most important for your own sake is to perform well in school, which requires an astute and deliberate effort to balance free time with work. Self-discovery and emotional maturation are secondary.

Herein lies the beauty of covered grades. The policy guarantees that no freshman in their fall semester will receive letter grades and instead will either pass or fail the course. In other words, so long as you break the 70 percent mark, you are set, which essentially removes the aforementioned responsibility to perform well. Now instead of entering college with some regard for schoolwork, your focus shifts entirely to finding and bettering your social circle.

This is both good and bad.

On one hand, covered grades allowed me to go out as many nights as I wanted to meet as many people as I wanted. I found my group of friends that I love to death. I settled into my Hopkins career in the best way imaginable. Blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth. My point is that this was indeed the administration's intended effect of the policy, and it worked: I blossomed into a sociable and content Jay, or whatever the hell it is we are supposed to be.

On the other hand, August marked an inevitably pronounced decline in my intellectual capabilities. I started off well and attended most of my classes and lectures until mid-to-late-September when I took my first batch of midterms and performed exceedingly well. Was I proud? Sure. Did I keep that momentum going? Absolutely not. From the day I moved in, I knew exactly how poorly I could perform and make it through the semester unscathed. If I played my cards right, I thought, I could scrape by with the bare minimum and still end up with a perfect transcript.

And so that’s what I did. I barely, barely passed my classes through a series of caffeine-fueled all-nighters and notes taken solely from Wikipedia. I went out as much as possible and in that process, found out what it meant to wake up on the floor, to attempt to steal from UniMini, to vomit on Charles Street, to write an essay in an hour before it is due. These were my “experiences.”

The proverbial train hit me at the beginning of this semester, when I was finally and unequivocally normal. No longer did I expect or receive special treatment as a Hopkins student, and no longer was anyone concerned with how well I adjusted to the school. Papers were due when they were due, no matter how convincing of an “I’m sick” email I could forge. Drinking one night meant I would have to sit through the hangover in class instead of self-medicating.

Covered grades come at an expense. The institution itself is a blessing in every sense of the word — I probably would have considered transferring had I not had a chance to situate myself socially. However, it demands a certain level of unexpected maturity to be able to bounce back into the scheme of things, into how life at college actually works.

Sammy Bhatia is a freshman Writing Seminars major from Cranbury, N.J.

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