Second-year students applying into programs such as the McIntire School of Commerce and Honors Politics programs expressed concern that taking classes for credit/general credit/no credit this semester will not only impact their chances of admission into competitive programs, but could also limit their opportunities for graduate programs in the future.
Within their first three semesters of college coursework at the University, many students take prerequisite classes required for a variety of majors and programs such as the McIntire School of Commerce or the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. In addition to these programs, majors such as Honors Politics and Political and Social Thought have competitive application processes.
The primary concern on many students’ minds is the apparent lack of communication between application-based programs and undergraduate students looking to apply into them this spring.
Second-year College student Jack Waters plans to apply to the McIntire School of Commerce, the University’s undergraduate business school. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Waters said that he “feels like McIntire has been really ambiguous about what is acceptable” for applicants, which has left him uncomfortable taking any classes for credit/general credit/no credit this semester, as he thinks that decision could reflect poorly on his academic status and risk admission into the program.
The University, with the approval of all undergraduate school deans, made the decision in October to offer credit/general credit/no credit options for all courses, citing stress and the challenges of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students had to opt into the system between Nov. 2 and Nov. 6 and cannot change their decision.
In communications to students about continuing the credit/general credit/no credit into the J-Term and spring semester, Provost Magill said that the decision will not disallow students from applying for majors but should be considered for students who need to increase their GPA for graduation purposes or financial aid eligibility.
“As part of the decision to continue offering students a CR/GC/NC grading option during the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year, the undergraduate schools have agreed that grades of CR/GC/NC will not prevent a student from applying for a major, for a research-intensive program like distinguished majors or for internal transfer between schools of the University,” Magill wrote.
Though Waters noted that programs have been periodically reaching out to students and providing updates to admissions processes, he said that this communication is unclear and still leaves students like him feeling worried about how taking credit/general credit/no credit may affect their chances of acceptance and their ability to apply to other programs in the future.
“Programs have made an effort to reach out to students but their message is usually ambiguous and not super helpful,” Waters said. “To be completely honest, I have no idea how McIntire is altering their selection process.”
Second-year College student Camila Sabisky hopes to apply into the Honors Politics program, the Department of Politics’ distinguished honors program. Sabisky hasn’t heard anything from the Honors Politics program about changes to the application, but said that she recognizes it’s a small program and is unsure how the program typically reaches out to students. Though she isn’t worried about the lack of communication yet, she hopes that programs will be more forthcoming and proactive with guidance about changes to the application next semester.
“I know that it’s a fairly individual and independent process, especially being that it's one of the smaller majors,” Sabisky said. “I'm hoping that next semester they’ll be a little more proactive in reaching out but right now I haven’t heard about changes that they’ve made.”
Some programs have simply moved information sessions and applications online, while others added additional questions to their application allowing students to elaborate on how COVID-19 has impacted them academically.
Anne Mitchell Cater Mulligan, director of undergraduate admissions for the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, said that for this application cycle, students are welcome to take any courses — including their two required prerequisites of Social Psychology and Microeconomics — for credit/general credit/no credit. Mulligan said that her advice to students is that no matter what they choose, they should complete the one-page optional addendum, in the form of a letter to the admissions office, to their application to provide context.
“We are encouraging students to make whatever decisions about lighter course loads and credit/general credit/no credit grades that make sense according to the larger set of challenges that they’re facing,” Mulligan stated. “We don’t want them to make a decision based on an admissions decision and we don’t want to penalize any students for any decisions that they're making either.”
The program also decided to waive its $75 application fee this year for all applicants with the intention of opening the program up to any student who is interested in pursuing a degree in Public Policy, regardless of that student’s financial situation.
“The moment has reinforced how important it is that we have ethical and efficient policy leaders so we definitely want to remove financial barriers so students could explore this path,” Mulligan said.
As students begin to apply into these programs in the coming months, Mulligan advised students to focus on showing admissions officers how they envision themselves as students and leaders and how they work toward this goal daily.
“Think about the way you're demonstrating incredible resolve, and resilience, and grit with all of these added stressors in your life right now,” Mulligan said. “Those are equally important, in some ways more important in terms of being ready to go out into the world and create an impact.”
Sadie Royal Collins, the director of undergraduate admissions for the McIntire School of Commerce, said that the program has added a question similar to Batten’s addendum to their application that “invites students to share insights into their circumstances and specifically why they chose to take a class for a grade or credit/general credit/no credit.”
Collins said that she hopes to emphasize that the application process is always holistic and students applying this year are not required to take any prerequisites for a grade. For the 2021 application cycle, McIntire has seven prerequisite requirements — three commerce classes and four non-commerce classes. In addition, students must have completed their first writing requirement, six credits of humanities classes and a foreign language through the 2020 level.
Despite these alterations to the process, Sabisky said that she still experiences great stress over whether taking classes for credit/general credit/no credit could affect her future down the line. Sabisky, who hopes to apply to law school and graduate programs in the future, said that she worries that she will be unable to contextualize her decision and provide an explanation when the time comes.
“I’m stressed about whether to choose credit/general credit/no credit not only for the sake of applying into a major but also looking forward to things like graduate school and law school,” Sabisky said. “I felt it was a necessary thing to do for my GPA and moving forward but it’s in the back of my mind that this might be a negative blip on my transcript.”
These are the concerns that academic professional organizations such as Alpha Epsilon Delta, a pre-health academic professional organization, and Phi Alpha Delta, a pre-law academic professional organization, aim to assuage. Both organizations have noticed increased member turnout and new members joining this semester, attributing the rise to the escalating need for support and resources.
Kayla Cabrera, fourth-year College student and president of Phi Alpha Delta, said that the organization has been working this semester to connect students with law school admissions counselors, providing LSAT resources and has opened executive meetings to answer concerns and questions.
“Most of our events are held via Zoom which can be difficult because of Zoom fatigue,” Cabrera said. “However, our executive team has done a great job in creating creative and helpful events for members.”
Ann Matthew, fourth-year College student and President of Alpha Epsilon Delta, said that there has been an exponential increase in stress over applying to medical school this year, especially given a lack of opportunities to research, shadow and volunteer. Though COVID-19 has impacted most of the organization’s in-person activities, such as clinic work and physician dinners, Alpha Epsilon Delta’s goal this semester is to give students the information to help them better feel like they have a grasp of what’s changing.
“We’re talking to them, sharing our perspective, giving information from other people we’ve talked to, just being a support resource for these people to ask any questions that they have,” Matthews said.