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Use Pass/Fail Classes To Your Advantage This Upcoming School Year

I’ve always been a major perfectionist when it comes to school — and everything else in my life, for that matter. So, even in the rare cases when marks don’t matter, I still care and work my hardest.

For example, at the end of my senior year, when my high school announced that grades could only increase and nothing could make anyone’s marks worse from that point on, I should’ve stopped trying so hard. I had no reason to keep giving 100% of my effort — besides, I’d already been accepted to my top university, and my grades were already the best they’d ever been (and likely the best they ever will be, considering how much more difficult university is). If that isn’t enough, the pandemic had just started, which caused lots of anxiety. There were a lot of reasons to take advantage of the opportunity to cool down — but I still tried my best.

I’ve since realized that this was a waste of time.

I’m not the type of person to commend people who half-ass tasks — especially school. But since coming to university, I’ve learned to put my effort where it counts, and particularly in this instance, I should’ve taken more time to focus on my mental health.

So, during my upcoming semester abroad in the fall, I’ll be taking advantage of pass/fail — for the first time ever. Despite being a busybody and a perfectionist, I know there’s other, more beneficial ways I could be spending my time.

Let me make this clear: Taking advantage of pass/fail doesn’t mean completely slacking off — it just means not stressing as much. In fact, this mindset can actually help you learn more from your studies. If you relieve yourself of the pressure that comes with graded classes, you’ll be able to focus on enjoying the class and taking in the course’s content, instead of stressing about memorizing concepts for tests or perfecting your essays. And that’s why we’re all in college, anyway — to learn.

Now, I don’t have to tell you how anxiety-provoking university is. But having a laidback attitude for pass/fail classes will give you a much-needed break from the stress of school. Take advantage of the extra time you saved by decreasing your to-do list, and have some fun. We’re in university and the pandemic isn’t at an all-time high for once, so enjoy it! See your friends, stay up late — and don’t feel guilty about it. This is the time to truly embrace the YOLO philosophy.

You can also give more attention to your mental health — something many of us don’t focus on enough. With less at stake for your academic success, take the time to de-stress — you can even take up a new hobby, such as mindfulness or journaling, which will help you become more introspective and manage your emotions. I’ll also never stop recommending a social media break, and replacing screen time with healthy activities and time outdoors.

If you’re reluctant to take advantage of pass/fail classes because you want to stay productive, I feel you. But there’s still so many other ways to make the most of a pass/fail semester, while still building on your academic skills. Try expanding your experience to a workplace environment by taking up a volunteer opportunity, freelancing, or even getting a part-time job. You can also work on building personal development skills through online modules or extracurricular projects. This way, you’ll be much more prepared for next year’s summer internships.

In that vein, by taking pass/fail classes, you may be doing yourself a favor down the road — when you’re out of college and looking for jobs. Plenty of industries don’t look at applicants’ grades; most are just interested in the fact that you have a degree at all. Of course, this becomes more complicated if you’re considering post-grad education — but for those who aren’t, stressing about getting high grades isn’t worth it in the long run. 

In general, taking pass/fail classes gives you time to focus on other avenues you’ve been neglecting recently — whether that’s mental health, socializing, hobbies, or extracurricular work. Regardless, designate your time in a way that works better for you — which probably means not spending 10 hours a day perfecting assignments that don’t contribute to your grade.

I know this isn’t possible for a lot of majors (ahem, pre-med). But for those who can, taking pass/fail courses is an opportunity to make your life more well-rounded. All of your time doesn’t need to be focused on school — isn’t that the dream for any college student?

Hey! I'm a second-year Global Business & Digital Arts student at the University of Waterloo, a National Writer for Her Campus, and the Senior Editor for HC Waterloo. When I'm not writing, you'll probably find me reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza.
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