Academic Lens: College Counseling Perspective on Pass/Fail Grades

Posted by E. Michael Koenig


A version of this letter from Proctor's Director of College Counseling, E. Michael Koenig, was shared with parents and students of the Class of 2020 earlier in March. As the global situation related to COVID-19 continues to evolve and Proctor has made the decision to assess through Pass/Fail grades during the spring trimester, we share this message to the broader community in hopes it sparks a valuable conversation schools must be having related to how we assess, equity of assessment, and our priority needing to remain on the connection to and wellness of our students. 

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The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted day-to-day life, with most colleges and secondary schools moving to remote classes for the spring. It will be the year of the asterisk! Recognizing the challenges of the current academic landscape, Proctor Academy has decided to move to a Pass/ Fail grading system for the spring trimester. This direction allows us to keep our focus on learning and growth while realizing each student comes to the table with different challenges and circumstances related to distance learning in their unique home situations. Our revised grading policy has been adopted by most colleges and followed by many at the secondary school level; we are not alone.

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Each day more and more colleges and universities are releasing communications voicing their support and understanding of a Pass / Fail direction. It is clear they will be flexible when evaluating transcripts and academic course work. Beyond the sample of schools listed below, the University of California system is also in the process of reconsidering its evaluation policy. Additionally, the NCAA has indicated they will move forward in the best interest of the student-athlete. It is clear; going Pass/ Fail will not negatively impact an admission decision unless a student fails. 

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The spring trimester is about moving forward, finishing what was started, and preparing for next year. Will it be different, awkward, and uncomfortable? Yes! However, with any new adventure comes an opportunity for learning and growth. Students need to jump into their courses with purpose, excitement, and engagement. Down the road, they will need a teacher recommendation to get into a class, and all students will need a letter of recommendation for college. Students need to embrace the moment and take inspiration from our motto, “Live to Learn, Learn to Live.” Our faculty will notice!

All the best,

E.Michael Koenig

Director of College Counseling

Additional Resources and Reading: 

NCAA Eligibility Statement: 

"In response to questions regarding schools that have moved to distance or e-learning environments, the Eligibility Center will not require a separate review of distance or e-learning programs utilized by schools with NCAA-approved core courses that have moved to distance or e-learning environments for Spring/Summer 2020 terms due to school closures related to the COVID-19 situation." Click here to read more from the NCAA. Nice

University of California System Announcement: 

“The University of California on late Tuesday, March 31, took a number of steps to temporarily adjust admissions requirements, so students and families will have one less thing to worry about...The measures include suspending the letter grade requirement for academic classes taken in winter, spring or summer terms of 2020; providing flexibility for students who need more time to meet registration, deposit and transcript deadlines; and suspending the standardized test requirement for students applying for admission as freshmen for fall 2021. These changes do not lower the bar for admission, but accommodate the real barriers students have faced as tests have been cancelled and classes have moved to pass/fail grading.” Read more on this announcement from University of California System

My high school is going pass/fail. Is that OK? 

"Whatever your school does, we’ll support it. If you have only P/F in the second semester, we’ll totally understand. It might mean we put a bit more emphasis on your first semester, but we’ll also completely understand your circumstances. If you’re currently on an upward trend, we’ll make the assumption that that trend would have continued in the second semester. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in every single way we can. Tulane just announced that students can opt to take their classes Pass, Minimal Pass, Or Fail, so we get it. Go to your online classes, do the best you can, make your presence felt, try your hardest. We’ll notice, trust me." - Tulane University Office of Admissions

"If your school has decided to change their normal grading system this year to reflect Pass/Fail grades, we completely understand this decision. At FSU, we offered a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option to our own students enrolled in the Spring term. Pass/Fail grades will not negatively impact your admission status as long as you pass! For all other students enrolled in high school, Pass/Fail grades will not negatively impact your ability to be considered for admission in 2021 and beyond." - Florida State University

“Our office has received several questions about our stance on schools moving to pass/fail in the last grading period.  We support a school’s decision to exercise this option and would ask that you include a notation on the transcript or in the school profile that you used P/F in a grading period.” - The Ohio State University

Click here to read blog posts on college counseling at Proctor! 


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