I'm currently in my undergraduate junior year studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I'm hoping to apply for Top 10 US grad schools in mechanical engineering in about 18 months. In response to the worldwide COVID-19 health crisis, our institution has (as have most academic institutions) switched to online teaching and made many changes to the structure of our courses to accommodate the situation.
As part of these changes, the university has offered students the option to selectively change the grade reporting on their transcripts to CR/NCR (Credit/No Credit) at the end of this semester. Normally, my grades would be pretty good (hovering around ~3.9 GPA) and I wouldn't bother to report my grades as a CR instead of as a percentage, but this crisis has completely disoriented me and made it difficult to focus on my studies.
Furthermore, the university has allowed instructors to retroactively adjust the course breakdown/weighting away from the original syllabus--this means that tests/projects that were originally worth 15% of the grade might have been increased to upwards of 40% weighting. This has had a negative impact on my course grades as well, as I was hoping to make up for poor showings on some of these lower-weight deliverables with strong final exam performances. Instead, these final exams are going to be worth much less now.
In the aftermath of these changes, I'm contemplating using the CR/NCR option on some of my course grades, particular with any grade that ends up lower than my current GPA. However, I'm worried about how this will be interpreted in my grad school admissions in a couple years. In normal circumstances, I think changing a percentage grade into a CR/Pass grade would be a red flag that a student's performance in the class was less-than-stellar.
Given the COVID-19 crisis and its effects on academia as a whole, are admissions committees two years down the road likely to be understanding if I decide to take advantage of the CR option now? Should I make use of it and explain that this was "the coronavirus semester" in my application package, or am I dooming myself by converting my grades from percentage into CRs?