Understanding the Pass/Fail Option

Have you ever heard a professor say that you can make their class “pass/fail,” but have no idea what they’re talking about? Let us explain.

To get a degree, colleges often have a set of courses or credits you must take outside of the ones required for your major. Some of these classes do not require a graded system, so instead, you can elect for the pass/fail option, where your transcript will only say “pass” if you pass, and “fail” if you fail.

So, why or why not choose the pass/fail option?


The pass/fail option was created for two reasons: to allow students with a declared major to take courses of interest outside of their major, and to allow students who haven’t yet decided on a major explore potential areas of interest. Let’s say, for example, you’re majoring in Finance but you have a deep-rooted interest in Art History. You’re worried that if you take an Art History course and aren’t good at it, your GPA is in trouble. This is where the pass/fail option comes in handy; you might not do well in the course but as long as you pass, you’ll get the credits and it won’t affect your GPA. This is a great way to reduce some stress and allow some academic leeway for students wanting to explore new fields.




Since there’s really no incentive to give 100% while taking a class pass/fail, choosing this option might increase the temptation to slack off a bit. You have to do the work no matter what, so if you don’t pay attention in class or don’t show up, it’ll be tough to do so. The pass/fail option also doesn’t look so great on your transcript if it’s there multiple times. One or two pass/fail courses should be fine, but more may appear like you’re not willing to try hard enough to work for a letter grade.


Now what?

The pass/fail policies are different for every school, so be sure to do your research before making the decision to make your class pass/fail. Weigh out the pros and cons, and make your decision based on what you feel is right. You should be very selective about which classes you want to make pass/fail, so make sure it’s worth it!

Do you still have questions about the pass/fail option? Let us know in the comments!

*Written by Emily Binder, Tulane University. 


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