Whether or not to take classes pass/fail? That’s the question.


The decision to take courses for a grade versus pass/fail is a significant one and there may be multiple factors at play. Different circumstances will determine whether or not (and how many) P/F courses may make sense for each student’s situation. There are varying considerations that may impact this important decision for each student:

  • In general – while these are extraordinary times during COVID and many employers (and some graduate schools—see below) may be somewhat understanding of the unusual circumstances we face, be prepared to discuss how and why you made the choices that you made in terms of which (and how many) courses to take pass/fail. Since both employers and graduate programs appreciate students who can challenge themselves, in most circumstances it will not be recommended to take all courses P/F.
  • For students looking for industry roles – be they in their final/4th year, juniors or sophomores, Career Services recommends that student carefully consider whether the course’s subject matter (and mastery thereof) has direct bearing on the intended career path(s).  In-major coursework could certainly fall under that category, as would electives or non-major requirements directly related to one’s industries or job function of interest.  We also would encourage students to be able to explain WHY they chose p/f  for any/all courses, for if accepting and adjusting to risk is an important part of their industry of interest, their choice here may imply a level of dis/comfort in operating at top form during times of uncertainty and change.  From the employer perspective, we have not had any employers raise concern about P/Fs on transcripts, especially if their interviewing process allows for demonstration of subject matter mastery in real time.
  • For students seeking NSF/REU fellowships –  Because of the importance placed on academic performance (transcripts, faculty recommendations, etc.) and the anticipation that the student would be considering advanced study, think very carefully before pursuing related courses P/F. Contemplate whether the course(s) in question implies an only adequate/p level of performance in a subject matter area, what a semester of all or some p/f courses would do to the cumulative GPA, and if in fact it would qualify – or disqualify – a student from meeting any GPA requirements of the receiving organization/institution.
  • For students planning to apply to law or health professions schools – Electing to take courses P/F should be done thoughtfully and in consultation with instructors and advisors.
  • For pre-law students – taking one course P/F is not a problem, even if the course fulfills a general requirement, especially if the overall academic record is strong.  Law schools look for a pattern of repeatedly electing P/F options throughout the course of one’s academic performance.  For multiple P/F courses schools will expect an addendum explaining the context and reasons.
  • Pre-health students – should be mindful that medical and other health professions schools prefer to see science and math courses taken for letter grades.  While there is some flexibility with requirements taken P/F, it only should be done for a compelling reason that can be shared in the application.  Also, students should check policies on P/F for requirements with their home state and regional schools.

We in Career Services recognize that each student’s situation is nuanced and complex. Should you have questions regarding these decisions and concerns about how they might related to career or graduate school planning, we would be happy to discuss your situation during an appointment, which you can schedule in Handshake.

By Claire Klieger
Claire Klieger Assistant Vice President & Executive Director