The deadline to opt for the Satisfactory/No Credit grading option is fast approaching, and as shopping period comes to a close, students are doing their best to make the right call. Taking a class S/NC can help alleviate students’ stress about grades when taking a course, allowing them to focus on learning; it’s just one example of the academic flexibility Brown is known for. Currently, the University allows students roughly four weeks to decide whether or not to take a class for a grade.
But many students cannot make a meaningful decision in that timeframe. Brown should consider extending the unnecessarily early S/NC deadline to offer more time for students to make well-informed decisions. And professors should be more mindful of students’ rushed choices and give them a clear sense of how they are performing early on.
In theory, S/NC gives students the freedom to explore classes they might have otherwise shied away from for fear of receiving a less-than-stellar grade. But in practice, students often lack necessary information to utilize S/NC effectively. Professors often fail to provide meaningful feedback on assessments within the first few weeks. Although a student on the fence could simply opt to take any class S/NC, shouldn’t that decision be based on more than a hunch? It’s not hard to find students who hastily opted for S/NC in an unfamiliar class only to find that they excelled in it over the course of the semester. There are also students who choose to take a class for a grade and end up surprised by tough papers, tests and projects late in the semester.
Some of these cases are inevitable, but Brown should still do as much as it can to help students achieve a clear sense of their prospective performance before the deadline. Within an extended timeframe, a student who may have felt anxious about a class could opt out of S/NC after receiving positive feedback and gaining confidence. Students shouldn’t have to feel pressured to choose the safest grade option simply because there hasn’t been sufficient time to get assessments back from professors.
There is no clear reason for the grade option deadline to be as early as it is right now. Four weeks might sound like plenty of time to make a decision, but in reality — between Brown’s two-week-long shopping period and the scarcity of graded assignments at the start of the semester — the deadline doesn’t make much sense. In fact, it seems arbitrary. So why not push it back by just a week, or even more? A later deadline would provide greater flexibility to students and professors alike.
Meanwhile, professors should be more mindful of the current deadline. This doesn’t require scheduling a midterm for the fourth week of the semester. But even one meaningfully graded assignment would go a long way, giving individuals a stronger sense of the class and how they might perform. Professors could also offer other forms of feedback to students, meeting with them to discuss course expectations, future assignments or grading policies — anything they can do to help students make an informed decision.
At a school that emphasizes learning for learning’s sake (and notably does not calculate GPA), concerns about our transcripts may seem superficial. But beyond College Hill, the reality is that academic success continues to be judged by letter grades. S/NC empowers students not by dismissing grades as irrelevant, but precisely by acknowledging that they matter, especially for those applying for the most competitive jobs, fellowships and graduate programs.
The S/NC option encourages students to explore challenging coursework without fear. That focus on exploration is a cornerstone of the Brown experience. But in order to take full advantage of it each semester, students need more information and more time.
—Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. This editorial was written by its editor Johnny Ren ’23, and members Catherine Healy ’22, Caroline Nash’22, Augustus Bayard ’24, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.