When to Take a College Class Pass/Fail

Many colleges and universities give students the option of taking a class pass/fail. This means that rather than receiving a letter or number grade at the end of the semester, students are notified that they either passed or failed the course. Students should be advised, however, that the pass/fail option is not available for every class.

To avoid a scheduling mishap, talk to your college advisor, and find out your school’s rules surrounding the pass/fail policy. Great times to take a college class pass/fail include when the course could hurt your GPA, when there are no other grading options, or if the class is outside your major.

Wondering when taking this style of course would work best for you? Consider these scenarios:

Take a college class pass/fail when there is no other option

Colleges and universities may grade certain courses on a pass/fail basis automatically—in other words, you don’t need to request the pass/fail designation. A uniquely formatted class (such as a teaching practicum) may be offered pass/fail, for instance.    

Take a college class pass/fail when the course is a personal enrichment elective

An elective is any class you take to fulfill a general education requirement or simply because you wish to. If you take a course for personal enrichment, you may not want the pressure of being graded according to an A-F or 0.0-4.0 system. Taking a class pass/fail alleviates much of this pressure, which might make the course more enjoyable for you in the long run. The pass/fail option will also allow you to focus on your major or more difficult classes.

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Take a college class pass/fail when the course could harm your GPA

Your GPA influences your graduate school admissions chances and future job prospects. Students with stellar GPAs rightfully wish to preserve their averages. If you discover that a class is more difficult than you imagined, you might be able to bargain for the pass/fail option to avoid having an unsightly grade on your transcript. Note, however, that certain graduate programs may not count pass/fail courses toward their admissions requirements.

[RELATED: 4 Things to Consider Before Dropping a College Class]

Take a college class pass/fail outside of your desired major

Some schools do not allow students to take a course in their major as pass/fail. Ensure the type of class you take as pass/fail is not a course you might need later for your major, as the credit may not carry over. For example:

  • If you switch from biology to an anthropology major, a previous pass/fail anthropology class might not count toward your new major.

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Take a college class pass/fail when you haven’t done so in the past

Most colleges and universities do not allow their students to take more than a certain number of pass/fail credits. If this is your first time taking a pass/fail course, or if it’s your second time, there may not be an issue. However, since every school’s policy is different, talk to an advisor before making any changes. Furthermore, your transcript should show schools and employers that you are hard-working. Too many pass/fail classes on a transcript could leave a negative impression.

When used properly, the pass/fail option is a great alternative for college students. Pass/fail can make a course more pleasant and cause you less worry during your academic career. Before choosing pass/fail, however, seek the opinion of an advisor who can best guide you.


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