Joint Advisory Statement on the Pass/Fail Option in Spring 2021 from the Undergraduate Deans of the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing, and the Wharton School 


As indicated in the December 17 message from President Gutmann, Provost Pritchett, Deputy Provost Winkelstein, and the Deans of SAS, SEAS, Nursing, and Wharton, Penn is again offering undergraduates the option to take any or all courses fulfilling the requirements for undergraduate degrees Pass/Fail (P/F) in spring 2021. The deadline for students to opt for P/F on courses in spring 2021 is March 19.

The pandemic has created challenges that persist into the spring 2021 semester. The P/F option is available to support students under such challenges, which include extenuating circumstances such as the following:

  • Significant additional family responsibilities due to the pandemic
  • Significant personal illness or the need to care for ill family members
  • Limited access to internet or necessary technology for remote participation
  • Inability to participate in required synchronous sessions (time zone differences, etc.)
  • Housing insecurity

Students contemplating taking general requirement/core or majors/concentration courses P/F in spring 2021 should think very carefully about the decision and discuss its implications with the academic advising office in their schools well in advance of the March 19 deadline. Penn is in the minority among undergraduate institutions in offering the P/F option in spring 2021. Within Penn, moreover, solid achievement in prerequisite courses is the best preparation for later success in advanced courses. Finally, for those Penn students with P/F grades in spring or fall 2020 and again in spring 2021, there is the risk that significant portions of the academic record will lack documentation of compelling academic achievement, compromising future applications to jobs, professional schools, and graduate schools. While it is tempting to think that simply earning a Penn degree opens doors, we know that the quality of a student’s academic work—often in areas unanticipated in their future importance—is vital to finding a fulfilling career after graduation. For all of these reasons, we strongly advise that students only opt for P/F grading on general requirement/core and majors/concentration courses in spring 2021 under extenuating circumstances such as those listed above.

Please note, also, that all courses taken in fulfillment or anticipated fulfillment of application requirements or degree requirements for submatriculation graduate degrees at Penn should be taken for a letter grade rather than P/F.

Dr. Russell Composto, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, School of Engineering and Applied Science

Dr. Nora Lewis, Vice Dean for Liberal and Professional Studies, School of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Diana Robertson, Vice Dean and Director of the Wharton Undergraduate Division, the Wharton School

Dr. Paul Sniegowski, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences

Dr. Julie Sochalski, Associate Dean for Academic Programs, School of Nursing