Taking classes pass/fail offers greater academic freedom

Lucas Guzman, Columnist

The idea of a course being so difficult it’s nearly impossible to pass is a fear that plenty of college students experience. For many, the concept of choosing a grade to pass/fail over a letter grade is unthinkable. But, for those struggling in their classes, the idea can be appealing.  

Pass/fail classes operate on a binary grading system, meaning there is no letter grade on your college transcript. Instead, students earn credit depending on whether they did satisfactory work in the course. This allows all final grades to be weighed equally as a passing score. Whatever their reasoning may be, students shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to pass/fail a class.  

The pass/fail option is only available to students who have at least 30 credit hours and can only be used for two classes per semester. Students who meet these requirements should consider changing a course to pass/fail if needed. 

For plenty of students, getting high grades was embedded into their psyche as the path to financial stability and success. After all, good grades are what allowed students into the University in the first place. 

Neuroscience senior Kirsten Yanagi had concerns when she was changing a course to pass/fail.

“I was really scared because I didn’t want them to see that I purposely passed/failed this one class,” Yanagi said. “A lot of people who are trying to get their GPA higher want to get the best grades, want to go to med school or anything like that. They’re afraid that if they use pass/fail, people looking at their application later on will see that as a red flag.”

It’s a common misconception that students who use pass/fail are only focused on doing the bare minimum. However, those who choose it often work just as hard as any other letter-graded course. Furthermore, many employers won’t look into specific grades, but rather if the student meets degree requirements. For many employers, the basic requirements are more than enough, and many experts say experience matters a lot more. 

No matter what grade a student passes a course with, they still passed it. 

“If you’re going to take the course pass/fail, you still have to pass it, which means you still have to meet the basic requirements of the course,” said Rosalie Ambrosino, assistant professor of social work. “The idea of pass/fail is to give students a chance to try out things that may be hard … and who knows, you may decide that’s exactly what you want to do.” 

Taking the pass/fail option gives students the opportunity to take more challenging courses not required by their major with little fear of it negatively affecting their GPA. The current system is made to be flexible.

Still, what the average college student chooses to do within their time on the Forty Acres is their own decision. 

Do you know what they call an undergraduate who has a few pass/fails on their transcript? A college graduate. 

Guzman is a social work and sociology sophomore from Austin, Texas.