COVID-19, Pass/Fail, and Your Fellowship and Graduate School Plans

LAST UPDATED SPRING OF 2020: As of Fall 2020 on-campus and hybrid instruction has resumed and the university is no longer offering a Pass/Fail option.

We have heard from a few Huskies who are concerned about how COVID-19 will impact their graduate school and fellowship futures. Here’s our update for you:

REMEMBER. You are irreplaceable and your health is invaluable. Taking care of your health and that of others is the top priority.

I’m worried about my GPA! Will earning a “bad” grade hurt my chances of getting into the best graduate school program (MS, PhD)? Will taking a course Pass/Fail ruin my chances of getting into the best graduate school program?
Applications to graduate schools involve many different components and an anomalous grade during a pandemic is unlikely to make or break your future. They are looking for broader patterns of success in a number of places. That said, the process involves so many different departments, where decision-making about admission gets made, that uniform advice is difficult. Our faculty experts’ general advice is that the people who make graduate school decisions are people living through this disruption, just like you, and taking one or two courses Pass/Fail, even in core courses, will not harm your chances of getting into graduate school, particularly if you have strong grades otherwise. However, not doing as well as you might otherwise have done will also not harm your chances either and will certainly be understandable to reviewers given the situation. Again, particularly true if your other grades are strong. What we’ve heard from folks is that if you think you may earn a B- or below in an in-major course, consider going Pass/Fail. Otherwise, B or above, better to take an in-major course for a grade if your plans involve graduate school. Remember, you and your references can always explain exigent circumstances in your application materials, whether they are COVID-19 related or not. In any case, reach out to your professors, most of whom will likely be understanding and help to accommodate health or family related needs. Also, remember, you don’t need to decide until April 14. See how things go.

I’m worried about my GPA! Will earning a “bad” grade or taking a course Pass/Fail ruin my chances of earning a fellowship?
Many fellowship competitions involve some type of application to a graduate program, so the advice above pertains. They likely also involve applications sent not to graduate programs but to fellowships selection committees. These selection committees are likely to be quite understanding and are seeking people with patterns of success in cultural engagement, intellectual work, leadership, and service. If the pattern is strong prior to this semester, making sense of an anomaly will be possible. The applications exist to introduce you to selection committees and to help you and them make sense of your life experience so far. Do your best and make your decisions in conversation with your professors, faculty mentors, and our office.

I’m worried about my GPA! Will taking a class Pass/Fail harm my future in the law?
Law school admissions tend to be a bit more standard across institutions. The advice prior to COVID-19 for applicants still seems mostly relevant.  In normal times, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) does not compute/convert courses taken Pass/Fail into their GPA calculations. The goal is not to take too many courses Pass/Fail, avoid taking courses that are pre-requisites or in your major Pass/Fall, and get a high overall GPA. Because of the COVID-19 circumstances and the fact that Pass/Fail is an official Northeastern response to these circumstances, our pre-law advisor in Career Design, Montgomery Thomas, notes that most law school admissions committees will not look at Pass/Fail grades for this term in a negative light. In your application, you would also have the opportunity to disclose any impacts the crisis might have had on your performance. Admissions will still vary by institution, though, so try to do well in courses that are in-major and pre-requisites to avoid having to use Pass/Fail, but if you think you will earn a B- or below in your major courses, take the option. Again, talk to your professors and see where the situation is by April 14. We also recommend reaching out to Montgomery Thomas, who advises Northeastern students about the law school admissions process in Career Services.

How admissions teams will make decisions is evolving so keep checking in — and you may want to participate in the LSAC Webinar for prospective law applicants on Friday, March 27, from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Eastern time about “Law School Admission in the Time of COVID-19” to hear from Deans from schools around the country.

I’m worried about my GPA! Will taking a class Pass/Fail harm my future in the health professions?
Our pre-health advising team has sketched out some important things to think about for those of you who may want to go into the health professions. Take a deep breath and take a look at their guidance.

I applied for the Gilman Scholarship in March, what’s happening?
The Gilman Program is delaying the review of Gilman applications submitted in March 2020. In addition, the Gilman Program will require any students awarded Gilman Scholarships for summer programs (i.e. those beginning between May 1 and July 31, 2020) to defer their awards to programs starting no earlier than August 1. We are prepared to work with March applicants to identify alternative study abroad options if their proposed programs were slated to begin before Aug. 1 and they are awarded a Gilman Scholarship.

What’s happening with the Fulbright Scholarship?
The Fulbright Program for 2019-2020 is now suspended for all U.S. participants currently out on their grants because of the Level 4 Travel Advisory. Grants are still being made for those who put applications in during the fall of 2019 for the upcoming grant year, 2020-2021. We hope that international travel and study will be resuming by the time those awards would be scheduled to start but there is uncertainty. The Fulbright competition cycle for 2021-2022 will take place and the new application portal is scheduled to open on March 31. We anticipate helping students with applications throughout the spring, summer, and fall when the next round of applications comes due. Recent alums and people graduating in 2021, write to to access our latest information sessions about applying for the Fulbright, available soon virtually.

Will the other major fall fellowships have competitions?
So far, we believe that all of the major distinguished fellowships will be running competitions through spring and heading into the fall.

What’s your best advice to me?
Don’t worry too much. Do your best. Reach out to your professors and advisors for help and assistance. Your health and well-being matter.