Pass/Fail Grade

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

Any course can be taken pass/fail, including courses fulfilling Major, Minor and General Education Requirements. Pass/fail courses from spring 2021 that can be used in majors and minors will remain pass/fail—there is no option to uncover the grade.

Any passing grade (A+ to D) for a course taken pass/fail  confers a credit toward graduation but is g.p.a. neutral. A failing grade of F counts toward the g.p.a. as with any other course.

There is no limit to the number of pass/fail courses students can take during spring 2021. These courses do not count against the total limit of eight pass/fail courses students in the College are permitted take. 

The last day to change a course to pass/fail is March 19. Students should change their grade type on Penn InTouch.

Applications to Graduate Schools: The interpretation of pass/fail grades by other institutions as part of their application evaluation processes will vary. Students were strongly advised to consult the website of the Career Services office and to connect with one of their staff.

Any course can be taken pass/fail, including courses fulfilling Major, Minor and General Education Requirements. Pass/fail courses from fall 2020 that can be used in majors and minors will remain pass/fail—there is no option to uncover the grade.

Any passing grade (A+ to D) for a course taken pass/fail  confers a credit toward graduation but is g.p.a. neutral. A failing grade of F counts toward the g.p.a. as with any other course.

There is no limit to the number of pass/fail courses students can take during fall 2020. These courses do not count against the total limit of eight pass/fail courses students in the College are permitted take. 

The last day to change a course to pass/fail is October 30. Students should change their grade type on Penn InTouch.

Applications to Graduate Schools: The interpretation of pass/fail grades by other institutions as part of their application evaluation processes will vary. Students were strongly advised to consult the website of the Career Services office and to connect with one of their staff.

The following changes to the College's pass/fail policy were instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and apply to the spring 2020 semester only.
 

Any course could be taken pass/fail, including courses fulfilling Major, Minor and General Education Requirements. Pass/fail courses from spring 2020 that were used in majors and minors will remain pass/fail—there is no option to uncover the grade.

Any passing grade (A+ to D) for a course taken pass/fail confers a credit toward graduation but is g.p.a. neutral. A failing grade of F counts toward the g.p.a. as with any other course.

There was no limit to the number of pass/fail courses students could take during spring 2020. These courses did not count against the total limit of eight pass/fail courses students in the College are permitted take. 

The spring 2020 deadline to change a course’s grade type (from pass/fail to a letter grade or from a letter grade to pass/fail) was Wednesday, April 29th.

  • Before 11:59 PM on April 13th, students could change the grade type in Penn InTouch.
  • From April 14th to the 29th, students were required to submit a Petition for Change of Grading Option.
  • Some courses offered by Penn schools other than the School of Arts and Sciences (e.g., Penn Law) required that the student contact the appropriate school or department directly.

Special Cases

Study Abroad: The expanded pass/fail option applied to undergraduate students on Penn-sponsored study abroad programs. The last day to change an abroad course to pass/fail was the last day of classes for the student’s program. Students were required to contact their College study abroad advisor to make this request.

Graduate Courses/Submatriculation: Any spring 2020 course that counted for credit on the undergraduate transcript, including courses also counting toward a graduate degree, can be used to fulfill requirements in the College even if taken pass/fail. Submatriculants were advised to check with their graduate program before committing to changing a course’s grade type to pass/fail. 

Applications to Graduate Schools: The interpretation of pass/fail grades by other institutions as part of their application evaluation processes will vary. Students were strongly advised to consult the website of the Career Services office and to connect with one of their staff.

Latin Honors/Dean’s List: Latin honors will be calculated as always, immediately following a student’s graduation using the grade point average that appears on the official transcript. The University suspended the awarding of Dean’s List for the 2019-2020 academic year. Students with questions regarding how pass/fail affects honors in their major should contact their major advisor in the relevant department or program.

Transcripts: A notation has been placed on every undergraduate’s transcript to recognize and honor the extraordinary disruption to the spring 2020 term and the changes in academic policies. 

Two-semester Courses: A grade of S or U is typically awarded for the fall of a two-semester course pending the award of a letter grade for the entire course at the end of the spring semester. If the spring 2020 portion of the course is taken pass/fail, the letter grade earned for the fall semester will replace the “S” or “U” in the fall semester. The spring semester will show as P or F. It is possible that individual departments may still consider the grade covered by the P when determining eligibility for departmental honors. 

 

Normal Policies Governing Pass/Fail
 

In registering for courses, students may choose between normal grading status (receiving a letter grade) and pass/fail.

  • In courses taken on a pass/fail basis, a passing letter grade (any grade above an F, including a D) assigned by the instructor is converted to P by the Registrar's Office and entered on the student's transcript. P is not calculated into the cumulative average, but an F is entered as a 0.0 and does affect the grade point average. Instructors are not informed by the Registrar as to who is enrolled on a pass/fail basis.
  • Courses taken to fulfill any Foundational Approach Requirement, the Sector Requirement, the Major Requirement or a minor cannot be taken pass/fail.
  • College students may take no more than 8 c.u. pass/fail, though the College generally recommend against this many.
  • Students may change the grading status of a course from normal to pass/fail (or vice versa) in Penn InTouch through the end of the ninth week of the semester or just before Advance Registration, whichever comes first. See the Academic Calendar for exact dates.

First-year students are strongly advised not to take courses on a pass/fail basis.

Pass/Fail Grade at Graduation

Any courses taken on a pass/fail basis that are later certified by the department or program as being part of a major or minor will be uncovered upon graduation.

Please note the exception to this policy for spring and fall 2020 and spring 2021.

Grade Type for Courses in the Major

All courses taken for a major must be taken for a letter grade, not pass/fail. Some departments have a minimum grade requirement for all courses within the major.

Please note the exception to this policy for spring and fall 2020 and spring 2021.