Ask a Nerd! “College Tips: The Pass/Fail Option”

Question: I have the option to take a ‘pass/fail’ in some of my college classes. Is this a good idea or not?

Brief: The pass/fail option has many pros and cons, and you are encouraged to do a lot of research prior to making any grading decisions that cannot be undone – consider discussing this with your private San Diego college tutor.



Many students are tempted to use the pass/fail option for any number of reasons. The class might be very difficult, or a student may simply want to try their hand at a new topic or subject that they are unsure about. Regardless of the reason, a great deal of research is required prior to making this decision. Each college has a different policy about pass/fail, so you are encouraged to check specifically with your school’s academic advisor.

1. The pass/fail option and graduate school

First off, it’s important to think about whether or not you would like to go to graduate school. Many undergrads swear off a graduate degree at this point but change their mind 5 or 10 years later. For the most part, graduate schools don’t like to see too many pass/fail grades so you should take this into consideration before making any decisions (READ: “Cover Letter Dos and Donts: A Deal Breaker”).

2. Classes within your major

In general, a pass/fail will not be accepted towards graduation if the course is within your major. It’s recommended that you take all the courses in your major for a letter grade to ensure that you don’t have to repeat any classes and that you can graduate on time.

3. Core classes

In addition to classes within your major, core classes almost always have to be taken for a letter grade. Classes such as English, math, and science all count as core classes and will have to be repeated if taken as a pass/fail.

4. Grade point average

One advantage of switching a course from a letter grade to pass/fail option is maintaining a high GPA. If you know that you will not get a grade higher than a ‘C’ in a particular class, it might be better to have a ‘P’ which will not affect your GPA. This is one way students can keep their GPA high for graduate school admissions or potential scholarships even if they do have to repeat a class or a similar class later on when their study habits have improved (READ: “What Does Holistic Admissions Mean?”).

5. Course experimentation and electives

Some colleges and universities will allow a student to take a certain number of electives as a pass/fail option. This can be advantageous for students who want to broaden their overall education but who are unsure of their skills. For example, if an English major wishes to take their very first ceramics course, they may be able to take a pass/fail so they can enjoy learning how to work with clay without fear of ruining their GPA if the class doesn’t go as planned.

Bottom line

Although the pass/fail grading option has pros and cons, the most important thing is that you stay informed. Each college has its own set of policies so it’s essential that students don’t make assumptions that could hurt them later on. The best way to be absolutely sure of the repercussions of the pass/fail option is to speak directly with an academic advisor and make sure that all of the information you are given is in writing so that you can refer to it later if necessary.

Summer is the perfect time to catch up and pull ahead in your studies. Book your private San Diego summer tutor today!

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are


Call Us at (949) 510-9361 To Get Started Immediately

…or fill out the form and we will get back to you.

    100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    You’ll love your tutor, or you don’t pay.

    Great Job!
    We applied to St. Margaret’s, Sage Hills, Santa Margret’s, and JSerra/ Engineer magnet program. We were pleased to get acceptance from all of them.