Academics: Grades, Excused Absences, and Disabilities Accommodations

Your grading options at a glance:

Type of Class Vassar Wesleyan
Cursos de Estudios Hispánicos (CEH) A-F only A-F only
Cursos de Humanidades (CH) A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U
Grado A-F or NRO A-F or CR/U
Key: A-F = graded; SA/UN = ungraded (Vassar); NRO = “Non-Recorded Option” (Vassar); CR/U = pass/fail (Wesleyan)

Grades from study abroad appear on the Vassar and Wesleyan transcript and are factored into the student grade point average. For policies at other institutions, students should consult with their dean or study abroad officer.

All CEH courses grant four UC3M credits and are offered for a letter grade only. Students from Wesleyan’s College of Letters may, as the exception, choose the pass-fail (CR/U) option. If they do so, they must notify the Director in writing before the drop/add period ends. Otherwise they will be enrolled for a grade.

Vassar NRO optionOne regular UCM (Complutense) or UC3M Carlos III course (CH or grado) may be taken NRO (Non-Recorded Option)The deadline for any NRO election is the same as the deadline on-campus (usually early October for fall semester and early March for Spring). No late requests will be accepted. To register an NRO election, students must seek authorization from their major advisor at Vassar, email the Vassar Registrar’s Office (Kathleen Giblin, Associate Registrar, at‎ with the name of the course and the grade that they are NRO’ing, and copy the current Madrid program resident director and assistant director, indicating the lowest letter grade they wish to have recorded on the permanent record. It is the student’s responsibility to doublecheck this with the advisor, confirm Vassar’s NRO deadline, write the Vassar Registrar’s Office before that deadline, and inform the director and assistant director in Madrid with a copy of the email sent to the Vassar Registrar’s Office. Hispanic Studies majors at Vassar are not allowed to NRO courses for the major once it has been declared.

Wesleyan CR/U optionOne regular UCM (Complutense) or UC3M (Carlos III) course (CH, grado) may be taken on a pass/fail basis if there is good reason. Good reason means that the student has attended and prepared for class faithfully; worked well and hard, including joining study groups with Spanish students; and met more than once with the professor to discuss how best to prepare for exams, papers, and presentations (which items to read on the bibliography, for instance; or what the format of exams is). Since program students who work as hard as they do in the U.S. and follow these strategies routinely receive the same kinds of grades they would in the U.S., we strongly recommend students take all their regular courses for a grade. Apart from the fact that it will motivate you to make a more serious effort toward an authentic academic and cultural experience, it will also look much better on your transcripts to future graduate or professional schools or employers. However, exceptionally students who have made these efforts find that the course is simply too difficult. In these cases, students should discuss the circumstances with the program director (normally toward the middle or end of the term) and be prepared to document their good-faith efforts. For courses counting toward a major, students are strongly encouraged to consult with their major advisor before choosing the Cr/U option. Hispanic Literatures & Cultures majors at Wesleyan must take all courses they wish to count toward their major for a grade.

Grade Conversion: VWM students at the UC3M are subject to the Spanish grading system, which is either numerical, alphabetic, or both.  In converting grades to the American system, the program takes into account the grade distribution within the given course, if we are able to document this, as well as any evidence of a skew affecting non-native students in particular. If evidence supports it, grades for direct enrollment instruction will be curved accordingly but by objective criteria affecting all students in that course. By objective evidence we mean, for example, previous patterns in course Actas (grade lists), which we use to make additional adjustments to the tables we provide below. Directors also make further allowance for direct-enrollment courses that we know are sometimes especially difficult for non-native speakers, such as Math and Natural Science courses (among others).

Generally speaking, the grades for CEH courses taken at the Carlos III have the following equivalents:

Spanish/Numerical Spanish/Alphabetic VWM Equivalency
8.5 – 10 Sobresaliente A range
6.0– 8.4 Notable B range
4.5 – 5.9 Bien C range
4.0 – 4.4 Aprobado D range
0 – 3.9 Suspenso Fail
NP (not present) Withdrawal or Failure

Generally speaking, the grades for Cursos de Grado and CH have the following equivalents:

Spanish/Numerical Spanish/Alphabetic VWM Equivalency
8.0 – 10 Sobresaliente A range
6.5 – 7.9 Notable B range
5.0 – 6.4


4.0 – 4.9




C range


D range

0 – 3.9 Suspenso F range

Tracking Grades at the End of the Term (Your Responsibilities): Once the term is over it is your responsibility to track grade postings in your Aula Global account. It is also your responsibility to communicate directly with your professors about any anomalies or surprises you find there when it is still possible to correct the problem. Carlos III grades will usually be posted before the group departure in your Aula Global account. You will notice, first, that you are given a “nota provisional” for each of your courses. You will also normally at the same time be given a date, time and location to meet with the professor for a “revisión de la nota.” This is not an occasion to retake an exam, but it is an occasion to review how the exam was graded and how your overall grade was calculated. It is also an occasion to bring any questions or doubts you have about how the final exam or overall grade was decided. It is sometimes possible to raise your grade somewhat (“rascar mejor nota”). It is at the very least an occasion to review the exam and the rationale for the grade. If you think the grade is very different from what you expected, it is especially important to attend these “revisiones,” because the professor (1) may have made a mistake, (2) may recognize s/he was too harsh, or (3) will at least be obliged to explain and justify the outcome. Generally, the date of the revisión is scheduled within a week (sometimes within a day or two) of a grade’s posting. This meeting is, as a rule, the last opportunity to change a grade before it is entered into the official Actas (the official grades as they will appear in Spanish university records).  When grades are posted will vary according to the course schedule, which means that CEH grades will be posted first, followed by Carlos III grados and CHs, and finally Complutense grados.

You will notice that your provisional grades, beginning with the CEH grades, will suddenly disappear from your aula global. The reason is that once the Actas are issued, and your provisional grades are no longer provisional, your grades are moved to your “expediente” (or transcript).  To consult your expedientes, click on the following link ( and then the pdf entitled Cómo ver mis calificaciones Follow the instructions there and you’ll see your final grades, not only for the CEH courses but for all of your Carlos III courses once the Actas are officially  closed.
The Program’s Curving Policies: A seemingly low grade may be (sometimes far) less low in the light of our conversion tables and especially in the light of a given professor’s grading patterns (e.g., where does the top grade start, is there any evidence of a skew against non-native students?). This might also depend on objective evidence of severe miscommunication or difficulty in a given course, almost invariably signaled by the large number of “no presentado” (absent) students in the final exam or by low grades across the board. The key is direct (in-person, not email) communication with your professors, always the essential step. Bear in mind that directors now do not have direct access to course Actas (lists of grades) and that grades are not usually published before early February or early July at the earliest. Moreoever, the Complutense is on a later schedule than the Carlos III, as you know, and we must report all grades at the same time. The Madrid program’s unusual (and rewarding!) emphasis on direct enrollment means, therefore, that grades will usually be reported somewhat later than other programs. Finally, the Registrar’s Offices at Vassar and Wesleyan can take up to a month to post grades after they are sent to the Study Abroad offices from the Madrid program office. To give you an idea of timing, the Madrid office has generally been able to report all grades to the Study Abroad offices by mid-March for the fall term and by mid-August for the spring term.

Official Make-Up Exam Dates in June at the Carlos III and in July (or September) at the Complutense:
Other than clearing up any possible errors or oversights, addressing a lower-than-desired grade may involve writing an extra paper or taking a make-up exam by fax from your college´s study abroad office. It is not uncommon for European students to fail an exam on a first try and to retake a final exam for a course during what are called the “fechas extraordinarias para recuperar un examen” (vs. “fechas ordinarias”). Although the exam will not be identical, it will cover the same material and be formatted in a similar or identical way. This gives students an opportunity to learn from the first round and prepare in a more effective way for the second; several program students have taken make-up exams this way over the past few years and have done very well on them. Even though the program recognizes a number of objective criteria for adjusting grades (sometimes up to 3 points), we cannot for obvious reasons guarantee a top grade in all such circumstances. If your “suspenso” grade is very low, you should consider taking the make-up exam. Starting in 2015-2016, the “fechas extraordinarias” for both the fall and spring terms at the Carlos III have been moved up from September to June.  The “fechas extraordinarias” for the Complutense are published in the same calendar as the official final exam dates for a course (these are usually scheduled now in either July or September). However, bear in mind that while students always have the option of taking a make-up exam in Madrid, professors are not obliged to authorize a make-up exam by fax or on a date other than the officially published date for “fechas extraordinarias.” If you want or need to take a make-up exam (either in Madrid or at home), you must communicate this immediately to the professor by any means necessary (by email, phone, and/or tracking down in person). If you need to make up the exam before you go or take it by fax from the U.S., you must find out immediately from the professor whether s/he is willing to allow a proctored make-up exam by fax. You should let him/her know that our universities have protocols for proctoring and faxing an exam from our study abroad offices (“nuestras universidades tienen protocolos para recuperar exámenes por fax de manera controlada por nuestras oficinas universitarias de estudios en el extranjero”). If you are authorized to make-up an exam this way by a professor, you must let the program office and your home-campus study abroad office know as soon as possible, so that the study abroad offices can make the necessary arrangements.

Attendance Policy and Excused Absences: Policies regarding evaluation of presence/absence in class are set by professors in all curricula (Grados, CH, CEH). It is essential that you find out what they are from each professor directly early on. The Bologna process (which has aimed to reform and standardize pedagogical criteria across Europe) places a great deal of emphasis on presence and participation.  Indeed, the Carlos III has communicated to program directors/coordinators that the policy across the board is “zero tolerance” for absences. In practice, this may vary from professor to professor. However, you should take this aspect of your class performance very seriously. It is also important to figure out early on what is the best way to communicate with your professors: whether in-person, by Aula Global, by something like a course Moodle, by email, or by a chat app. It is your responsibility as a student to ensure your professors receive timely communications, for instance about missed classes. Do not assume that firing off an email into the ether is enough: professors at public universities are overwhelmed with messages from many sources.

It is also important to understand the program director´s role with regard to CEH (the program for American students). Even with CEH, we are effectively guests at the Carlos III, you are all officially registered students at the university, and we must honor local expectations and rules established by faculty. The CEH language professors always announce at the beginning of the term that absences must be channeled through program directors. This is sometimes misunderstood by students. All this means is they do not want to have to evaluate absences by themselves. It does not mean that we have any authority to excuse students. The Carlos III CEH program will only excuse an absence if you provide evidence (for instance, by confirmation of your host family) that you have gone to the hospital or a pharmacy or if your host family reports that you are seriously ill and bed-ridden. If the program staff knows this or has taken you to a hospital, we can report this. We have no authority to excuse you from class because you report you are not feeling well.

However, we certainly want you to tell us immediately if you are ill, etc., and need any kind of medical or psychiatric care (your host families should also be able to help in this regard). The assistant director, Pepa, can let you know which hospitals, clinics, and doctors are near your host families. In addition, as you know, we are very much available to discuss any kind of issue that might arise. More generally, we are here to support you to ensure your academic success, although this of course is a responsibility you share with us: to ensure you understand professors’ expectations and make every effort to meet them. Except for our objectively defined curving criteria as explained above, we have no direct authority over grading. Finally, travel (a cheaper ticket, a delayed flight, a family member´s or friend´s decision to drop in on you) is never an acceptable excuse for absences from class, much less from exams. Build in ample margin (certainly a day at least rather than hours) especially during the exam period because university policy is very strict about this. If you have a documented disability and need accommodations, please see the item below about this.

Disabilities Accommodations: Program directors are not behavioral health experts and we must follow guidelines provided by on-campus staff responsible for disabilities accommodations and behavioral health issues, especially as they bear on your academic performance. For behavioral health resources see the program links under Life in Madrid, then Health and Safety. Disabilities accommodations must be established in writing by the administrator responsible for this on the student’s home campus and through self-registration with our two main host campuses in Spain according to the instructions below. The acccommodations officially authorized must be provided as early as possible in writing (e.g., by email attachment) to the program director and assistant director and to Alvaro Escribano and Leonor Prado at the Universidad Carlos III. The protocols and contact persons for the primary consortial partners are as follows:

Vassar:  Students must contact MaryJo Cavanaugh (Director, Accessibility and Educational Oppotunity,, tel. 845-437-7584, to establish disabilities accommodations and/or to communicate official accommodations to the Madrid program staff and the Carlos III authorities. The Vassar Accessibility and Educational Opportunity office will normally communicate official Vassar accoomodations by email attachment to the Madrid program and Carlos III staff. However, this process must be initiated by the student.

Wesleyan: Students must contact Accessibility Services ( to establish disability accommodations with the Madrid Program staff and the Carlos III authorities. The Accessibility Services office will provide the student with accommodation letters that can be shared with the Madrid program, however this process must be initiated by the student.

Self-Registration of Accommodations Needs at the Carlos III and the Complutense: Students who require accommodations will need to self-register at the appropriate university website upon receiving their Spanish-student ID (see the links below for the websites at the Carlos III and the Complutense). They should bring a letter from their home program stating their accommodations.

We strongly advise students self-disclose medical conditions to the program director and assistant director well in advance of the start of the program so we can anticipate ways to help you. Because of confidentiality, program staff will not otherwise be fully informed unless students choose to share that information.

Accessibility services at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M):

Register at DISCAPACIDAD Y NEE (Necesidades Educativas Especiales) You might be required to enter two surnames after the Spanish custom to register officially: if so, enter your single (American-style) surname twice and it should work.

Accessibility services at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM), our other Madrid campus:

Register at the Oficina de Integración para Personas con Diversidad (IOPD) via email directly at

Officially authorized academic accommodations will normally transfer from the U.S. but they must be handled through the Carlos III CEH program by way of the program directors. However, the key step is the student´s self-registration through the Carlos III and Complutense portals explained and linked above. Since the local language is not English, our students take courses from four different curricula (including a second Spanish university), and the accommodations letters are from colleges and universities in the U.S. rather than in Spain, students should therefore not send accommodations requests directly to their professors in Spain. Students should be in touch as soon as possible after the start of classes with their home-campus academic accommodations officers (MaryJo Cavanaugh at Vassar, email address:; and Accessibility Services, email address: with further website information at Students should request that the corresponding officer email the current program resident director and the assistant director (Pepa Eizaguirre), with a copy to our Carlos III CEH coordinator Leonor Prado (, explain the purpose of the message, and attach the home-campus’s official academic accommodations letter for the student. The accommodations letter should spell out exactly the nature of the accommodations authorized for course evaluations.

For the most up-to-date information regarding accommodations check with the current Resident Director of the program.

Adjusting to Different Learning Strategies: Over the years, VWM students have done extremely well in direct-enrollment courses.  The key to success has been effort, diligence, regular attendance, and open communication with the professor, that is, the same practices that lead to success on the home campus. However this calls for more initiative on your part in a public university abroad and it also calls for new learning and communication strategies.  If you have any doubts or concerns about your standing in a course, the essential steps are (1) to meet in person with your professor (do NOT rely only on email communication, which may or may not be answered); (2) speak to the best Spanish students in the course; and (3) join a (good) Spanish study group, if you have not already done so (ask the professor and/or the monitores how to go about this).

You must understand there are different codes and expectations in public European universities from American private liberal arts colleges.  European professors will say that “you are doing fine” if you are doing B or C work or even just passing.  If you are hoping to come away with a high grade, it is essential that you communicate this to your professors so they can let you know what you need to do in order to achieve it (our students do so routinely, but not without effort and especially regular, and clear, communication with professors).  Normally this entails much more intensive work toward the end of the term, in preparation for a final exam and/or paper.  On the other hand, do not panic if you are following this advice consistently and seeing 3s or 4s (out of 10) on preliminary work.  Try to figure out (with the professor, the best Spanish students) how to improve your marks but also remember that some professors will make a 7 out of 10 their maximum grade.  If we are able to confirm this directly or indirectly by objective means, we adjust our conversion tables accordingly (sometimes by as much as 2-3 points).

Term-time papers or exams are frequently easier than the final exam or paper. So it is imperative–again–that you state your hopes with your professors up front clearly, pin down as precisely as you can the format and kind of information or knowledge you are expected to master for the final exam, and do the corresponding work you need to do to earn the grade you would like. Because some program students decide to take their final exams earlier than the official schedule, it is especially important to do as the best Spanish students do and pace your preparation for the final exam over the course of the semester rather than try to cram it all in the final week: this takes iron discipline. Also bear in mind that, in some courses, final exams are deliberately intended to show up both what you know and what you don´t know. That is, the exam itself is used as a learning tool. There is nothing like staring at a blank page to realize that what you thought you understood you have not in fact fully assimilated. Many would argue because of this that we have made a mistake in the US by throwing out exams in the Humanities in the past generation (the Sciences, tellingly, have not made this mistake). Both in and outside of the academic world and in the professional world you will find yourself in many situations like an exam: a situation that is not always predictable. Because of this you will often want to put yourselves in an exam-like situation, to test whether you really know and understand what you need to know. That, in any case, is how many professors in Spain treat exams and you should approach them as a learning opportunity, as a different way to figure out what you really know. Therefore, even if you think you have done poorly because you were taken by surprise, that might very well not turn out to be the case when grades come back. In the meantime, it invariably helps to speak as well to the more academically motivated Spanish students in the course and find out what their strategies are for preparing the final exam or paper. Frequently students form study groups that can be rewarding both academically and socially.

There is certainly much-less handholding and signaling along the way in European public universities than what you might be used to in American private liberal arts colleges.  Some of us would argue that they are, in that respect, better preparation for life.  In any case, treat these differences as an opportunity to learn new academic and life skills.

Given our students’ general academic talent and work ethic, along with the guidelines for curving explained above, low grades or failures after conversion are very much the exception.  In fact, more often than not, they are a predictable result of choices made by students in the way they spent their time during the term.  Please bear in mind that CEH courses are not, by any means, necessarily easier in this regard than direct-enrollment courses (grado or CH).

For tips on time management, organization, strategies for studying, and other helpful advice from Wesleyan’s Academic Peer Advisors, see this great resource: