The Grading System and Grade Requirements
Ordinarily, student coursework is evaluated by letter grades, which are assigned a value based on a 4-point scale:
E (failing grade)=0
GSAS students must maintain a grade point average of at least a B (3.00) each academic year; the grade point average is weighted for each course based on the number of course credits. For example, a grade received in a two-credit course proportionally impacts the grade point average compared to a four-credit course. Many programs require their students to maintain a higher average (see Degree Requirements to review program requirements).
- GSAS students may not take classes pass/fail.
In certain circumstances, non-letter grades are used (as described below):
Students who miss a regularly scheduled examination arranged by the Registrar’s Office are given a failing grade of absent (ABS), which will be changed only if the student is granted and takes a make-up examination. A grade of ABS=0.
Students may receive a grade of excused (EXC) for a final examination or other course assignment if they have passed departmental examinations or other requirements and their program approves.
- If a student elects to take the final examination and complete the course, they receive a letter grade.
Incomplete grades (INC) are granted to graduate students only at the discretion of the instructor. If a student receives an INC, the student must complete the work of the course before the end of the next regular term. For example, if a student receives an INC during the fall term, the student must complete the coursework during the subsequent spring term by submitting work before the final day of the spring term. Even if the student’s registration status during the term is leave of absence, the student must complete coursework during this time frame. However, the only exception is if the student is given an earlier deadline by the instructor.
If the work is not submitted within the required time frame, the INC becomes a permanent grade, unless the student has petitioned successfully for an extension.
- INC grades incurred in cross-registered courses in another school are subject to GSAS rules and deadlines unless the other school’s deadlines are earlier.
- Extensions must be approved both by GSAS and by the other school.
- Incomplete grades cannot be changed once a final degree has been awarded.
- Students who receive an E or a permanent incomplete (INC) or absent (ABS) may retake the class for credit, however, both grades will appear on the transcript.
Students taking Reading and Research (300-level courses) are graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory (SAT/UNS) basis, but at the academic department's discretion, TIME-equivalent courses may be marked as ungraded (NOG). With permission of the instructor, students may petition the Registrar’s Office to take certain foreign language courses on a SAT/UNS basis (language courses may not be counted toward the minimum course requirements for a higher degree). See the Academic Calendar for deadline.
Students who pass with the equivalent of a B- or better receive a SAT grade, otherwise, they receive an UNS (UNS=0). A grade of SAT is not calculated into the grade-point average.
As a result of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, for spring 2020 only, all GSAS students enrolled in any course at the University were graded on an “Emergency Satisfactory/Emergency Unsatisfactory” basis. This includes students who were taking courses at other Harvard Schools. A clear notation of SEM/UEM was included on all transcripts for the spring 2020 term to indicate that courses were graded SEM/UEM due to extraordinary circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to receive credit for a course with a regularly scheduled final examination, or both a mid-year and a final examination arranged by the Registrar’s Office, a student must take the examination or they will receive a grade of ABS, unless previously excused by the department.
Absence due to illness
A student absent from a final examination because of illness must fill out a petition for a make-up examination at Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) within 24 hours of the beginning of the examination. In an emergency, if the student is unable to go to HUHS or is being treated elsewhere, a petition for make-up examination must be submitted to the Registrar’s Office. In this case, the student must also file a letter from a physician certifying the date and nature of the illness. Students who are unable to take an examination at the scheduled time due to a documented condition should contact the Accessible Education Office as soon as the need is apparent to discuss make-up examination accommodations and procedures.
Absence for other reasons
Students who must be absent for reasons other than illness, such as a death in the family or a reason of similar gravity, may petition the Registrar’s Office for a make-up examination within one week of the end of the examination period. Students who do not take the regularly scheduled final examination in a course receive a grade of ABS (Absent), unless excused by their department. A grade of ABS is permanent on a student’s record if a make-up petition is not filed or not granted, or if the make-up examination is not attended. Make-up examinations are given in February for fall term final examinations and in September for spring term final examinations.
In absentia petition
Students who, for sufficient reason, cannot be in Cambridge at the time of a final or make-up examination may petition to take the examination in another place. In absentia petitions and information are available from the Registrar’s Office. Completed petitions must be filed 30 days before the regularly scheduled examination date.
Absence for religious reasons
Students may request an out of sequence exam due to religious observance by submitting a Religious Out of Sequence Exam Form 30 days prior to the start of the examination period. If granted, the rescheduled exam will typically be held within 24 hours of the scheduled exam.