Pass/Fail Grading and College Admissions

pass fail transcript icon

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in unprecedented changes to education this past spring, including changing some high school classes to pass/fail grading policies. These grading changes have many students, particularly high school juniors applying to college this fall, wondering how college admissions officers will view pass/fail grades on their spring 2020 high school transcript. 

How COVID-19 Affected Spring 2020 High School Transcripts

As schools across the nation transitioned to online instruction, administrators and teachers had to decide how to grade students’ spring 2020 school work, often deciding between traditional grading, implementing Pass/Fail, or letting students choose one or the other.  

There are pros and cons to both policies; traditional grades (numerical or letter) may fail to accurately assess a student given new challenges due to online learning, but they keep the status quo and are able to be calculated into GPA points. On the other hand, pass/fail grades are not usually calculated into a student’s GPA, but do not negatively affect the GPA either. 

How Do College Admissions View Pass/Fail on My High School Transcript?

Many, many colleges – from Ivy Leagues like Yale to private schools like Rice and public schools like The University of California – say that Pass/Fail grades during your spring 2020 semester will not have a negative impact on admissions decisions. The one good thing about a global pandemic is that it is, well, global; everyone experienced it and is aware that it continues to affect the world.

Many, many colleges – from Ivy Leagues like Yale to private schools like Rice and public schools like The University of California – say that Pass/Fail grades during your spring 2020 semester will not have a negative impact on admissions decisions.

Colleges will continue to look at your college application holistically, weighing the course rigor of your entire transcript, advanced classes, extracurricular involvement, application essays and SAT/ACT scores in their decision. 

Colleges Are Going Test-Optional; Should You Still Take the SAT/ACT Test?

If your grades have been good throughout high school, or have consistently improved semester-over-semester, college admissions officers will assume that this trend continued in Spring 2020, even if all they have to go off of is a “P.”

This is why it’s important to show consistent growth or excellence throughout high school rather than just a few semesters. Colleges have never relied on the grades from one semester to determine a student’s eligibility for admission; they have always looked at the complete transcript to get the best picture of a student’s academic performance.

Get a New Practice Question Each Week

Enter your email below to get a new ACT/SAT practice question delivered to your inbox each Wednesday.

How to Improve Your College Admissions Profile

But what if this semester was your last chance to boost your GPA, or you just don’t feel great about your transcript overall? There are still ways to improve your college admissions profile.

Tips for Freshmen and Sophomores

Freshmen and sophomores still have time to make a big impact on their high school transcript. Choose challenging courses and make a commitment to excel in them. Colleges are looking for rigor in your transcript. Take AP or IB classes if you can, as these usually provide the highest GPA points and can earn you college credit. Focus on pushing yourself in subjects where you excel. 

Choose challenging courses and make a commitment to excel in them.

However, while you want to challenge yourself, don’t take on more than you can handle. A “B” in an advanced class is better than an “A” in a standard class, but an “A” or “B” in a standard class is better than a “D” or “F” in an advanced class. If you’ve never taken an advanced class but feel up for the challenge, sign up for one or two and see how it goes! 

Tips for Juniors and Seniors

Juniors and seniors have fewer options for improving their overall high school transcript. However, you can still impress admissions officers by showing a balanced course load and steady improvement in the last two years of high school. Further beef up your college application with strong essays, extracurricular involvement, and impressive SAT/ACT scores. 

This is a good time to mention that a good SAT or ACT score can bolster your holistic application. Particularly with many colleges going test-optional, an SAT/ACT score provides additional information about your academic abilities that may help you stand out from a pool of applicants. 

A good SAT or ACT score can bolster your holistic application. Particularly with many colleges going test-optional, an SAT/ACT score provides additional information about your academic abilities that may help you stand out from a pool of applicants. 

But in order for it to do you any favors, be sure to take some time to prepare well! Find a study system or program that works for you and stick with it until you own the content. Our online ACT and SAT study courses are designed with just that in mind: helping you own the content through focused practice questions so you’re getting the most out of each minute studying. 

If You Have Questions, Ask an Admissions Department

As always, if you have specific questions about how your pass/fail grades will be viewed by your school-of-choice, contact their admissions department. They will have the most accurate information regarding their admissions standards and policies.

Further reading:

Colleges Are Going Test-Optional; Should You Still Take the SAT/ACT Test?
How to Pick the Best Extracurricular Activities for College Applications
How to Create Easy, Original College Application Essay Ideas

Studying for the ACT or SAT?

The Olive Book’s online ACT and SAT courses are all you need to boost your score. Check them out:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Courses

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *