Academic FAQ: Students
Last Updated: April 2, 2020
Note that the most recently added/updated questions have been moved to the top of the document.

What if I am having difficulties with my course work or with the move to online classes? (updated: 4/1/20)

We recognize that undergraduate and graduate students are facing unique challenges this semester.  We know that in some cases, the switch to online learning will go very well and for other cases, it will be more challenging.  We are all working together to determine solutions that enhance our university community. 

Are you having any issues with making the transition to online learning?  If so, here are some options that you can consider.

Academic Advising and Coaching (added: 4/1/20)

All  undergraduate students will be assigned to an advisor in the Center for Academic and Career Success.  If you are having issues with feeling successful in your online classes, please reach out to your CACS or faculty advisor.  Graduate students should reach out to their faculty advisors. Advisors are all prepared to provide you with some guidance.  

In addition, CACS is making the Academic Coaches available on an ad hoc basis to provide support to students as they transition to the online learning environment.  They can provide tips for studying, managing your time, etc.

Tutoring, Writing Center, Math Center (added: 4/1/20)

The Center for Academic Success, the Writing Center, and the Math Center have all transitioned to online services.  If you need assistance, please reach out to schedule an appointment. They will continue to provide you with the same supports virtually that they have provided you on campus.  Please remember to use google docs for any drafts you submit to them for review so that the tutors can all have access to materials you share.

Requesting an Incomplete (added: 4/1/20)

As part of our normal processes, students can request that an Instructor give them a grade of Incomplete.  This is possible when the student has not been able to complete the requirements of a course for legitimate reasons, such as the current disruption in the semester, provided that the work completed at the time of the request is of passing quality.  Grades of I are submitted by the Instructor to the appropriate deans to be entered into Cardinal Students. If you are passing but need more time to complete the work for the semester, please consult your Instructor to discuss if this is an option for you.

Requesting Pass/Fail: Undergraduate Students (added: 4/1/20)

We have heard that some of you want to be able to go pass/fail.  We have also heard that some of you would like to continue to earn grades.  We are committed to a process that allows you some choice as to what best meets your needs as you adjust to the online learning environment. 

The following exceptions regarding pass/fall apply for all undergraduate students in Spring 2020.  

Pass/fail courses will always count as meeting a free elective requirement.

For this semester only, pass/fail courses will meet Distribution or Liberal Arts Curriculum requirements.

In some cases, courses that are pass/fail may be able to count as meeting major or minor requirements. Each dean and program chair is carefully considering which courses might possibly meet the requirement for their majors and minors if taken pass/fail and which courses cannot.  Each school or department will then provide more specific guidance to interested students in their major and minor programs. 

Among the factors that will determine whether a course taken on a pass/fail basis can satisfy major or minor requirements are the following:

  • For some majors, the determination is connected to accreditation needs or licensure preparation needs (e.g., nursing, which has clear guidelines on what courses must be graded).  
  • For some courses, a letter grade may be necessary in order to ensure that the course has been completed at a sufficient level to progress to the next one.  
  • If you are taking a graduate course and want the course to count as part of a 4+1, you must earn a letter grade for that course.  

You should also carefully consider financial aid ramifications if you elect to take a course pass/fail as some funders may require the course to be graded.

We are creating a university-wide process for requesting a switch to pass/fail for a course.  The process will require you to speak with your instructor first, since it is possible that you may be able to resolve concerns that you might have about your performance in the class.  It will also require that the request be approved by your academic dean. We are allowing this as an “opt in” process. Forms are due by April 22, 2020.

If you would like to request pass/fail, the steps are as follows:

  1. Arrange to discuss this option with your instructor.  You will be asked to verify the date of the conversation as part of the request.  Your instructor may be asked to document that the discussion occurred.
  2. Your instructor should provide you with guidance.  The instructor should talk to you about your current standing in the class.  The instructor might then advise you on what your prospects are likely to be depending upon the quality of any outstanding graded work.  
  3. In order to pass the course should your pass/fail request be approved, you must complete all outstanding assignments in the course at the level deemed to be of passing quality. 
  4. You will then fill out this form by the close of business on April 22, 2020.
  5. Your academic dean will review your request
  6. Your academic dean will then respond to let you know if the request is approved and will let you know if there are any limitations on how the course will count

Requesting Pass/Fail: Graduate Students (added: 4/1/20)

Graduate courses, by their nature, do not lend themselves to pass/fail grading, because graduate students are held to a higher academic standard towards satisfactory academic progress (SAP).  Such progress also plays an important part in financial aid and scholarship eligibility, both of which cannot be judged with pass/fail course grading.

Normal exceptions to this rule are language requirements, comprehensive examinations at both the master's and doctoral levels, thesis presentations, and doctoral dissertation defenses.

In light of the current conditions imposed on students and faculty by the COVID-19 pandemic, individual schools may consider exemptions from the normal grading system if a student enrolled in a course, the instructor of the course, and the school dean agree to this exemption.

If you would like to request pass/fail, the steps are as follows:

  1. Email your academic dean to discuss this option
  2. If your academic dean approves the possibility of converting to a P/F option, email your course instructor to discuss the option
  3. Your instructor should provide you with guidance.  The instructor should talk to you about your current standing in the class.  The instructor might then advise you on what your prospects are likely to be depending upon the quality of any outstanding graded work.  
  4. In order to pass the course should your pass/fail request be approved, you must complete all outstanding assignments in the course at the level deemed to be of passing quality. 
  5. You will then email your academic dean detailing your request by April 22, 2020 in order for your academic dean to consider the request
  6. Your academic dean will then respond to let you know if the request is approved and will let you know if there are any limitations on how the course will count

Withdrawing from a Course: All Students (added: 4/1/20)

We have extended the deadline to withdraw from a course.  You now have until April 22, 2020 to withdraw from a course.  You can withdraw using Cardinal Students.

Please be aware of the possible consequences of withdrawing from a course.  There are potential financial aid implications if you withdraw from courses.  If you reduce your credit load when you withdraw and are enrolled in fewer than 12 credits as an undergraduate or fewer than 8 credits as a graduate student this change would move you from full time to part time status.  If you have any questions about the possible impact of withdrawing from any course on your financial aid, please consult the Office of Financial Aid.

Note also that a term withdrawal does not normally result in a refund of the semester’s tuition charges. If your semester was impacted by you or someone in your family's COVID-19 diagnosis, the University will consider a tuition appeal under Section VI of our Refund of Student Charges Policy (link to here -

Will my classes have final exams? (added: 4/1/20)

Instructors should share information with you about how they plan to hold final exams.  For some classes, the instructor will decide to hold a final exam during the regularly scheduled final exam time.  If your instructor is doing that and you realize you have a conflict or a time zone issue, please let your instructor know.  The instructor might ask you to be on Google Meet or Zoom to video proctor the exam. The instructor might use Respondus lockdown browser and Respondus monitor for proctoring exams. It is also possible the instructor might substitute a paper or project for a traditional final given the circumstances.

What should I do if I am sick and am not able to participate or attend classes? (added: 4/1/20)

We recommend that you follow our typical practice of notifying the Dean of Students by email to Using our normal practice during this atypical time will allow us to track the impact of this virus on our campus community and will facilitate a coordinated response to your needs.

How will I know what is going on in my classes?

Instructors will be keeping in touch with you.  Check your CUA email everyday as that will be used for communication by your instructors and Blackboard generated emails.  But, also, you can reach out to them if you have questions or concerns.

What online learning resources are being provided to help?

Technology Services has activated the Blackboard mobile app (consult Blackboard’s help page for more information).  Google Meet will be available for individual and group meetings.  Some instructors are electing to use Zoom. Both are similar in functionality and allow you to see others in the meeting.

Will faculty hold office hours?

Instructors should hold virtual office hours so students can stay connected and ask questions.  That will be a critically important step in keeping students engaged in classes. Office hours could be individual or group using Google Meet.  Students should take advantage of these to navigate the move to online learning to receive support from and connection to instructors. Use these times to ask questions that you have about course material or how the class is proceeding.  If you have questions about your class, please reach out to your instructor to schedule a meeting - don’t wait!

What about academic advising and other mentoring by faculty?

Faculty will make available alternate ways of advising, mentoring, and meeting with students, including holding Google Meet virtual meetings.  Feel free to ask your advisor (either CACS or Faculty) for a virtual appointment. If you have questions, get in touch - we are open and available to help.

What about class registration for fall?

For undergraduate students, we have modified the Academic Calendar.  You should see new appointments in Cardinal Students. We did this since we knew a lot of you were counting on starting advising appointments right after spring break.  With the extension of break and the move to online learning, we wanted to give everyone more time to have those meetings.

For graduate students, registration opens as planned and there are no changes to the scheduled dates.

What about textbooks and other reading materials?

We know that not all students will have access to their textbooks during this time.  Tell your instructor if this is an issue for you as they might be able to scan materials or find an alternative reading.  Let the instructor know what you are missing so they can help you to be successful!

Are there other resources for textbooks?

The Open Textbook Network has freely available e-books that may serve as an alternative to an assigned textbook reading.  Their offerings are arranged by subject on their website. You also can find earlier editions or translations of a text that are no longer under copyright and are available online by searching “open textbook + the subject” in engines such as Google or Bing.

Do I need to worry about copyright issues if my class shares pdfs and scans of materials?

Fair use should allow for scanning materials during this situation, particularly since students find themselves in a situation not of their own doing. See the growing list of signatories to Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research. We know that not all PDFs are accessible, so please let your instructor know if this is an issue for you. 

What should I do if I’m unable to access class materials online?

We know there are many reasons why you might not be able to access materials online.  We know that for some of you, your area may be experiencing internet provider issues and not be able to connect.  We also know that the current situation is straining the capacity of many family’s wifi plans as there are more people at home trying to do online learning, working from home, streaming entertainment content, etc.  We know your phone plan may not allow for unlimited data. We also know that you are not able to do the usual to manage these issues; you cannot go to the coffee shop or library to do your work for class given the need for social isolation and quarantining.  We’ve been reading lots of tips and tricks, from driving to a parking lot by a school or store with wifi and picking it up from your car so you maintain social isolation to providers giving out free or discounted service that you can apply for. But, the best thing to do is to reach out to your instructors and your advisor.  Explain what is going on. We may not be able to help immediately but we will try to help find a solution so that you can be successful.  

What do I do if I’m having difficulty “attending” my classes and I’m afraid it will hurt my attendance and participation grade?

We know these are challenging times but we still want you to participate in learning as part of your educational program.  If you are behind on assignments, please let your instructor know why. If you are unable to attend a synchronous class, please let your instructor know why - we know you may need to take care of your own health or someone else’s or you may have other obligations that you would not normally have during the school year.  In this virtual world, there might be new ways you can participate, so please ask.

How do I obtain my DSS accommodations?

Instructors should endeavor to provide accommodations in the same manner that they are provided in the classroom. Students should reach out to DSS if they have specific questions.  For the most part, what instructors do in the classroom can be done online - providing notes, allowing recording, giving extra time on tests.  Google Meet has captioning functionality, which could also help depending on the accommodation. If instructors have questions on how to meet an accommodation, they should schedule a meeting by phone or google meet to discuss the situation with the student, and they should reach out to DSS for guidance.  Students should also proactively ask to schedule a virtual meeting to discuss, much like at the beginning of the semester when you turn in your letter.

Are there other resources for textbooks?

The Open Textbook Network has freely available e-books that may serve as an alternative to an assigned textbook reading.  Their offerings are arranged by subject on their website.

What is our bookstore doing to help with books?

Barnes and Noble will offer free access to textbooks for students enrolled in universities impacted by COVID-19 if the publisher has supported this action. They are also extending the date for textbook returns (most students are probably not thinking about this issue yet but they will be concerned with it when May comes.)

Please see this news release for more details. 

Where can I find information about the Library?

Please consult the Library’s COVID-19 website.  That is the best source of information about Library resources and services at this time.

My instructor intends to teach my course synchronously. Can they shift the meeting time of the course since no one “needs my classroom” at a different time?

No. All synchronously taught courses should follow the published spring semester class schedule since students are enrolled in multiple courses.  Instructors can hold office hours at any time, but classes should follow the schedule. Keep in mind that is EST if you are home in a different time zone.

My instructor wants to have a group of us get together off campus.  Is that allowed?

No.  Instructors should not hold group meetings in person on or off campus.  They can hold virtual meetings using Google Meet.

What about nursing clinicals, field, other practica, student teaching, laboratory work, performances, and other similar educational experiences?

Students should contact their instructors, department chair or dean for more information.

Generally, the goal is to continue your educational experience; however, instructors may need to be creative in modifying or substituting in-person experiences with virtual experiences such as alternate assignments, audio and visual recordings, simulations, and so on, or with developing alternate assessment methods.  Some of these are governed by accrediting bodies so it is likely that different programs will make different decisions.

Are Undergraduate Comprehensive Examinations taking place?

All Associate and Assistant Deans were asked to report their comprehensive examination plan to the Dean of Undergraduate Studies on March 13.  Exams should be postponed if they need to be in person; else they must be administered online or modified to a project based assignment (i.e., research paper).  Some exams were completed before the break and are not impacted. Some exams are already project based and not impacted.

Are Graduate Comprehensive Examinations taking place?

Students should contact their department chair or dean for more information.

How are master's and licentiate theses being deposited?

  1. A candidate contacts Terrie McPherson at to have the thesis reviewed for formatting as normal.
  2. As soon as the candidate has his/her thesis formatting approved, the candidate must obtain email approvals from the thesis director and reader that the thesis is ready to be deposited. These email approvals must be sent to both the candidate and to Terrie McPherson at
  3. After deposit approval has been obtained from the director and reader, the candidate will be given the link to upload the thesis to ProQuest. The thesis deposit will follow the same instructions as doctoral students.
  4. All students must also complete the ETD@CUA Submission Copyright Statement, which is found online at This form can be returned electronically or mailed to the Graduate Studies office.
  5. The successful candidate will mail the thesis deposit fee of $50 to the Graduate Studies office after uploading the thesis to ProQuest and completing the ETD@CUA Submission Copyright Statement.  The deposit fee can be paid in check or money order made payable to The Catholic University of America.

Please note that Terrie McPherson is the first point of contact for all thesis processing.

Are oral doctoral defenses happening?

All doctoral defenses are to be offered in the spring 2020 semester as online/remote defenses under the following guidelines:

  1. Everyone participating is aware of the arrangement so that no one “is taken off guard.” 
  2. The examination must be conducted with both video and audio available for all participants.
  3. The entire dissertation defense process can be conducted remotely; namely, the candidate, chair, secretary, major professor, and readers may all participate remotely as needed. 
  4. If the candidate or any member of the examination panel (chair, secretary, major professor, and readers) requires the use of technology that is not available remotely, arrangements must be made with the school and/or department to allow for the use of University resources and technology. This may require some participants in the defense process to come to campus for the defense itself.
  5. If for any reason the telecommunications link between the remote location of the candidate, the remote location(s) of the examination panel, and/or any examination room used on The Catholic University of American campus in Washington, DC, breaks down for a prolonged time, the examination will be deemed cancelled and it will have to be rescheduled.
  6. The chair of the oral defense can sign the oral defense forms on behalf of any member of the examination panel unable to attend in person, though the member of the examination panel will need to provide an email granting the chair that authority. The email should be attached to the appropriate form.
  7. It remains the responsibility of the school/department to arrange/handle all the logistical/administrative details.
  8. The University has a license for Google Meet which has the video/audio capabilities necessary to conduct a defense in the manner described above.

How are doctoral dissertations being deposited?

  1. Once a candidate has been approved for a defense this semester, he/she must contact Terrie McPherson at, who will send the Permission to Publish form to him/her as a fillable PDF. The student would then be responsible to get the signatures electronically and send it back to Terrie electronically. Terrie will then print it out as usual and include it in the candidate's dissertation file.
  2. As soon as the candidate has his/her dissertation formatting approved, Terrie will print out the title page, abstract, and signature page on cotton paper. This will go into the candidate's dissertation file, as the cotton paper is needed for University Archives.
  3. Terrie will print out the approvals from the committee listed in #6 above. These approvals will need to be sent to me by the school deans.
  4. The successful candidate will mail the dissertation deposit fee ($50 or $100, depending on the degree awarded) to Terrie McPherson after the defense is completed. The deposit fee can be paid in check or money order made payable to The Catholic University of America.

Other deposit processes, such as the review of the dissertation for formatting, the completion of the ETD@CUA form and the SED questionnaire, and the uploading to ProQuest, remain unchanged.

This dissertation formatting review process should begin no later than one week before the scheduled defense date.

Please note that Terrie McPherson is the first point of contact for all dissertation processing.

Should Teaching Assistants and Teaching Fellows continue their work?

The short answer is Yes. 

Students should contact their advisor, faculty supervisor, department chair or dean for more detailed information.

Should Research Assistants continue their work?

In further response to the coronavirus Covid-19 situation, the university has revised our guidance regarding research operations.

At this time, the university is suspending all data collection activities related to research, except in those situations deemed by the Provost to be “essential”.  We are not suspending research.  Data analysis and writing should continue to the extent possible, but in-lab production of data should be shut down.  

It would be wise for any operations that continue under the “essential” label to prepare for the possibility that campus access could be restricted in the future, or for the possibility of health-related issues within a laboratory.

Any questions regarding research operations should be directed to David Long, Assistant Provost, at, or the Office of Sponsored Programs at 202-319-5218 or

What about communications with Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, and Research Assistants?

Make sure you remain in regular contact with your supervisor using virtual appointments/meetings. These meetings should be regular, not too-long in duration, and frequent and can easily be done via Google Meet if needed.