Academics during your first year at Minerva are unlike any other school. Gone are GPAs, flashcards, lectures, textbooks, classrooms…

Minerva’s unique pedagogy is one of the main reasons many students choose to attend the school, but actually experiencing the curriculum can be a bit disorienting at first. This article tells you what you need to know about grades at Minerva, from the basics of how they work, to advice on how to think about them productively and healthily.

First, a quick primer on how grades work during the first year at Minerva:

Everyone takes the same four Cornerstone classes, which focus on Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs). HCs are core skills that are supposed to be perfected over a lifetime, not the memorizable content most students are used to studying. Oh, and each one gets its own #hashtag.

It doesn’t make sense to expect you to master something as nuanced as #emotionaliq or #cognitivebiases right away. After the first year, therefore, you will only have pass-fail grades for each Cornerstone class. Your average scores for each HC are expected to increase over your next three years, meaning that your final first year grades will be determined at the end of your fourth year.

You’re graded on in-class participation (answering written polls and speaking in class), and assignments (in-depth projects like essays and reports). You will be marked on the HCs you applied in class and assignments. All grades are on a 1-5 scale. If you receive a 1, it is an indication that you do not have a clear understanding of the HC and should take some time to relearn the concept. 5s, awarded for the novel and in-depth application of an HC, are so rare and incredible that many students share them on social media stories and humblebrag to friends if they receive one.

Those are the basics of how you’ll be graded this year. Now, some advice on how to value your grades:

1. Grades matter.

Sure, getting a 1 or a 5 on that poll response won’t matter in the long run, but whether or not you understand the HC you’re supposed to be demonstrating will. Your grades are, in all likelihood, the best method available to assess your learning. And since learning is ultimately why we are all paying tuition, it is in your best interest to value your grades as one measure of progress.

2. Grades are not the only thing that matters.

One way to try and get 5s is to pull all-nighters perfecting an overly-ambitious assignment. Do not do that (often). You probably have family and friends who you love and, definitely have a body that needs sleep and exercise. Sometimes you will need or want to prioritize other aspects of your life. Search for the balance, it is achievable.

3. Studying 24/7 does not guarantee high scores.

Aim to work smart, not just hard. This does not mean that you should try to “hack” the system — the system is designed to help you learn, so circumventing it is a waste of your time and of your money. Instead, work to develop strategies (like doing classwork in advance and coming up with a plan for assignments) that help you do academic work faster and better.

4. Ultimately, you are learning to change the way you think for the rest of your life.

Do not just put effort into assignments and/or readings and then ignore everything you learned after the class or due date passes. Focus on how you can best prepare yourself for a career (or several) adapting to new challenges and constantly acquiring new skills.


There’s no one right way to approach grades at Minerva. You’ll spend your first year figuring out what works better for you. Hopefully these tips will help you have a year you can be proud of.

For some more advice on how to do prep work, the first part of any class at Minerva, see the next part in this series.