How Will No Letter Grades from K-8 Impact My Child’s University Applications?

Kate Knight

This is an exciting time for those of us in University Counselling at SMUS. The recent changes at the Middle School around report cards, letter grades and teacher feedback are a really positive step in preparing students for university.

My colleague, Denise Lamarche, recently outlined these changes and why they’re being made. This week I’m excited to add to that and share how these changes impact students as they get to the Senior School and move on to post-secondary.

Parents are rightfully curious about what no letter grades until Grade 9 means for their child. This is a natural question when we think back to when we went through the education system. However, the shifts we are making will have a positive impact on students – at the Middle School, at the Senior School and in university! 

Will my child be prepared for Senior School?

Absolutely! Students will get better feedback and more detailed information about their learning at the Middle School. They will enter Grade 9 better prepared for the academic focuses at the Senior School.

The more information students have about how they learn, the more they will benefit. They will start at the Senior School better able to identify and articulate their strengths and they will know areas where they need to pay attention for improvement.

The idea is that when students transition from Middle School to Senior School, the type of assessment they’re used to – ongoing feedback about their progress – will continue. The grades they receive – letters and percentages – starting in Grade 9 are just an additional piece of information about their learning that will eventually connect to their university applications and post-secondary studies.

How might this impact my child’s university applications?

What these changes offer students can have a positive impact on their post-secondary applications!

Universities understand that they need to prepare students to participate in the world. The post-secondary experience is changing as universities look beyond theoretical and academic study. It’s also about developing people who can contribute. Employers rate emotional intelligence and the ability to collaborate as the top skills they want in employees. So universities have taken note.

Relying on good grades alone doesn’t cut it anymore to get into university. Admissions departments in many programs look more holistically now. Grades are still an important factor, but they look for students who have a breadth of experiences and can self-reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. They want students who’ve already developed skills like communication, collaboration and curiosity. We want students to start developing those skills as early as possible.

What we’re doing from K to 8 is laying the foundation for students to understand themselves as learners. That continues at the Senior School and we build on it by adding another piece of information about their learning. At university, students need to dig deeper to find their strengths and areas for growth. We’re preparing them for university where a grade may sometimes be all they get for feedback. The approach at our Middle and Senior Schools ensures they are well-prepared to tackle this.

More universities are looking beyond grades in the admission decision. Many will have examples of students with a 96% average who were passed over in favour of one with an 86% average. The student with a lower academic average may have been sought after because they pursued extracurricular activities and could articulate how their life and learning experiences to date have been meaningful and impactful.

Will my child still be prepared for academics at university?

Yes! SMUS remains a school that prepares students for higher learning and life.

SMUS students will still graduate experienced in taking tests and writing papers. But they will also have lots of practice working in groups, asking deep questions and reflecting on their learning – skills which today’s universities also value highly. In most disciplines, there’s a lot more opportunity to do internships, co-op placements and study abroad programs. These require the skills our students develop through our approach to teaching and assessment.

Even in content-heavy programs like engineering, where memorization is still important, students still need to have communication and teamwork skills to be successful in the application of their learning. Students will struggle if they can only memorize facts. If they can’t apply them or communicate their ideas with classmates they will find it hard to succeed.


My colleagues and I in University Counselling know that this is a really positive change that will help students as they look ahead to the Senior School and post-secondary study. If you have any further questions about the changes or want more details, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of us in the University Counselling department.


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