While flunking out of college is common, some institutions have lax grading policies that make it remarkably difficult for students to fail.
Whether its college, law school, or business school, we found 13 schools that make it nearly impossible for their students to fail.
Most of these institutions are elite private schools with extremely selective admissions. Some argue that the students who gain entry to these schools are highly qualified, and therefore they perform higher than the average university student regardless of their grades.
These schools also have lenient grading policies and high grade inflation. Some have abolished the letter grade system altogether, while others allow students to choose which grades show on their transcript.
Yale Law School is widely regarded as the top law school in the U.S.
The school doesn't have regular grades, just honours, Pass, Low Pass, and Fail. Almost no one fails, so basically the worst you can do is get a low pass.
Not only does Yale Law have a different grading structure, but it has a unique culture as well.
We were recently shut down by students when we tried to compile a list of 'the most impressive students at Yale Law School.'
Harvard Law School also does not use traditional letter grades.
The school used to have a policy where 8% of students in each class were required to receive a Low Pass, but at the end of 2009, that policy was abandoned. However, professors are still allowed to give a Low Pass to students who they believe deserve it.
Georgetown University Law centre adjusted its grading policy in 2009.
Prior to the change, 10% of law students received an A, 15% received an A-, 15% received a B-, and 5% received a C+ or below.
Now, 12% get an A, 19% get an A-, and only 5-10% get a B- or below.
It puts failure that much further out of reach.
At Columbia Business School students can receive grades of honours, High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, Fail, or Incomplete.
Students do not fail often, but even when they do it will probably go unnoticed.
The school has a grade non-disclosure policy, where students are encouraged to not disclose class grades or GPA until after they have accepted a full-time job offer.
Though it consistently sits atop US News and World Report's College Ranking List, Harvard College, the undergraduate school at Harvard University, is as known for its rampant grade inflation as it is for its prestige.
In June 2000, a record 91% of Harvard undergraduate students graduated summa, magna, or cum laude. And USA Today reported that eight out of every 10 Harvard students graduate with honours, with nearly half receiving A's in their courses.
At the College of Brown University, the undergraduate school at Brown, two-thirds of the grades given to undergraduate students are A's as of 2010.
The school's grading policy lets student get either a Satisfactory/No Credit or A,B,C/No Credit. The worst you can get is 'No Credit,' which is given when courses are not satisfactorily completed. But you can't fail.
Harvey Mudd is a private liberal arts college in California that has a very flexible grading policy for first-year students.
During the students' first semester at the school, freshmen are graded on a High Pass, Pass, and No Credit scale, making it impossible to fail out during the first semester.
After the first semester, students can choose to take one course on a Pass/Fail basis. The other courses are graded on a traditional letter scale.
Yale College, the undergraduate school at Yale University, inflates grades: 62% of grades awarded to Yale undergraduates are A or A-. (Compare that to 40 years ago, when just 1 out of 10 grades fell in the A range.)
Currently Yale undergrads can decide to take certain classes under a separate 'Credit/D/Fail' option but otherwise their grade corresponds to the traditional A, B, C scale.
However, the school is considering transitioning from the letter grade system to a 100-point scale. Voting has been postponed for now but if approved, the new grading scale would be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year.
Hampshire College, a private liberal arts college in Amherst, uses narrative evaluations instead of grades, which means that professors give students written feedback on papers and projects instead of letter grades.
This system 'eliminates competition' and enhances 'collaborative learning,' according to the school.
Undergraduate students in their first year at MIT are on a pass/no record grading policy. If a student scores a D or F, the external transcript will show no record of the student having ever taken the class.
Why the leniency? MIT says this grading policy 'eases the transition to college, allows students to adapt to doing MIT-quality work, gives them flexibility to explore academic, research, and social opportunities at the Institute, and de emphasises grade competitiveness while emphasising learning for its own sake.'
This essentially makes it impossible for students to fail their entire first year at MIT.
After freshman year, courses are graded on a regular A/B/C/D/F basis. However, juniors and seniors still have the opportunity to take some courses outside their major on a pass/fail basis.
Sarah Lawrence, a private liberal arts college in upstate New York, used to have a no-grades policy, but now gives students grades for external purposes. However, grades are very much de-emphasised on campus.
Each student is given a written evaluation of their performance, which is valued more highly than traditional letter grades. Sarah Lawrence also focuses on a 'donning' (or advising) system that connects students and faculty.
The school emphasises writing, creativity, and performing arts.
Although Stanford has a regular grading policy where undergraduate students can get A, B, C, and D grades, there are no F grades given.
Here, grade inflation is still common. This chart shows the steady increase in average GPAs from a 2.48 in 1917, to a 3.55 in 2005.
*Note: though Stanford stopped making grades public in the mid-1990s, the 2005 GPA is a calculated estimate from the Stanford Daily.
Goddard, a small liberal arts college in Vermont, does not use traditional letter grades. Instead, it evaluates students with a written narrative assessment system, meaning that professors and advisors write evaluations that document each student's 'learning and growth.'
The school says that 'A Goddard transcript tells the reader something about who the student is as a learner and as a person, what the student's academic interests and passions are, what they learned, and even how they learn best.'
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