The transition from high school to college is daunting. Students often have to move away from home for the first time, participate in new extracurriculars and find a new network of friends. Academic competition, financial pressures and obsession with grades add to the stress. Many first-years are unsure of their academic path but expect they will earn high grades in a new, rigorous setting.
These pressures can be overwhelming and hinder academic success. A handful of universities have implemented shadow grading for the first semester of college in order to make the transition less emotionally difficult. At Wellesley College, Swarthmore College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others, first-semester students receive either a ‘pass’ or a ‘no pass’ as their grade. Only students and professors know the actual letter grades these students earn on assignments, but the letter grades do not appear on official transcripts.
This policy aids students who are making a significant transition from high school to college. Students at these schools can discover and develop the work ethic, time management skills and responsibility needed to do well in their courses without fear that mistakes made in the first semester will haunt them forever. This security encourages intellectual exploration. Shadow grading gives students a semester to match their habits with the rigor of the university and adjust to a new environment. Furthermore, shadow grading allows students to focus on club activities and extracurricular involvement. It can be especially useful for students who would like to use their first semester to explore a number of disparate fields of study without hindering their grade point averages or ability to count specific courses toward a major. In addition, shadow grading would benefit students coming from schools that did not offer extensive college-level AP and IB coursework by giving them a semester to level the playing field.
Tufts should implement this policy to strengthen its liberal arts education and give students the chance to explore new fields and take personal risks in course loads.
Data shows that this policy can be effective. Research from Wellesley College found that 94 percent of students surveyed stayed in difficult courses because of the security afforded by the shadow grading policy. In Wellesley’s fall 2014 semester, the first semester in which the policy was implemented, there was a 50 percent decrease in dropped courses compared to past years.
Shadow grading aids first-year students as they acclimate to college life, and if Tufts implemented it, our school would be a more welcoming place. It encourages a balanced approach to college life, instead of a crushing focus on academics at the expense of all else. We would welcome this policy with open arms.