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How to Decide Whether or not to take a class Pass/Fail

The fifth Monday is quickly approaching, and that is also the Monday by which you need to submit the paperwork for deciding whether or not a class should be taken pass/fail. Maybe you’re taking a class that you have to take, so you can’t drop it, but you can lighten the load for yourself by omitting the stress of having to fight for the letter grade that you want or need. While this is by no means the canon on taking things pass/fail, here are a couple guidelines to help you decide:


The class is required, but not that important to you.



You’re a statistics concentrator, and you have to take computer science. It makes sense to take computer science, and you understand why you need to take it, but you have no intentions on ever really doing data science other than your beloved R. Go ahead. Take the class pass/fail. You’re concentrating in some form of biology. You have to take statistics. As important as it is, you might only need to know the basics, and need not kill yourself with the details as much as the aforementioned statistics concentrator does.


You’re taking the class as an elective/for fun.



It’s happened to the best of us. We’re taking a class purely for the edification and possible enlightenment it may bring us in a field that we know nothing about. And somehow, this class turns out to be a ton of work, but intellectually rewarding. You’ll probably never another class like this again, but it might be the one to drop your GPA, and nobody needs that. Why not take it pass/fail? Your life won’t be impacted, and you can still be intellectually stimulated without simultaneously worrying your head off about the points and grades.


You’ve already satisfied the requirement.



Similar to the last point, but slightly different. Maybe you’ve already satisfied your SLS gen-ed requirement, so you don’t need this for a grade. Then


You will not slack. (At least not too much.)



There is little point in taking a class if you’re not going to put in at least due diligence. Your time will truly be better spent elsewhere, like going more in depth in another topic, or volunteering, or doing research. At the end of the day, the only person you owe anything to is yourself, and you should try to hold yourself accountable. If marking a course as pass/fail is only going to make you lose interest or incentive in working hard, maybe reconsider.


You’re not already taking other classes Pass/Fail


You should arrange your schedule accordingly, and if that means taking two pass/fail courses, that’s okay too. But if you’re already taking something Sat/Unsat, then it might be a good idea to not take another course without letter grades.

You’re hauling a large course-load already.


But you can’t drop this class. Can you take it pass/fail then? Maybe you already have four letter-graded classes. There’s no reason not to take the last course pass/fail, especially if it’s not especially important.


Would you be doing the same amount of work anyways?



A friend of mine told me not to take CS50 pass/fail because if you complete all the work you need to pass, you’ll probably get a good grade anyways. If such is the case, then there’s not really a need to play the pass/fail card.


Ultimately, the decision is up to you, and this list is in no way exhaustive. Maybe you have a thesis to write, a novel to publish, or the MCAT to take. Between all the Gen-ed, concentration, and secondary requirements, you find yourself struggling to fight every battle. The Pass/Fail could be your friend.

Amy Zhao

Harvard '18

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