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Pass/fail option worries graduate student hopefuls

Some students are concerned by meeting program requirements for graduate school if they go pass/fail on their classes.
Hailee Schievelbein
Hailee Schievelbein

Students eyeing graduate school are worried about how the option to take classes pass/fail will affect their admission chances into postgraduate and pre-professional programs.

In an effort to ease the burden of remote learning, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced in late March that students would have the option to change the grading criteria for any number of classes to satisfactory/unsatisfactory, or pass/fail, beyond the first two weeks of the semester. 

Under these criteria, students receiving a grade of C- or higher would earn a grade of ‘S’ and receive full credit while students earning a grade of D+ or lower would earn a grade of ‘N’ and not receive credit.  

Alisha Bhagia, a pre-med student on a fast track to medical school, said that she was immediately concerned when she heard about the new pass/fail option. She was uncertain about which classes she could take pass/fail and still meet her program requirements.  

“I talked to my adviser … and they’re kind of still figuring it out,” she said. “For the most part, we’re allowed to switch some of our courses. However, it may differ for other people, depending upon which medical schools they’re applying to.”

University academic advisers have had to tailor their advice to frequent changes and uncertainty in higher education across the country. 

Barbara Goodwin, an undergraduate CLA adviser, said that she has heard many concerns similar to Bhagia’s. 

“It comes up in almost every appointment that I have when I’m working with pre-health students,” she said. “They want to know whether professional schools will allow [S/N grading], and, if it is allowed, will it hurt their application if they decide to make a change? It will be important for them to be able to explain why they made that decision if asked.” 

The University of Minnesota Medical School practices holistic review, which means that they consider a variety of weighted factors, such as grade trends and courses taken when considering applicants. The Medical School has stated that it will be accepting S/N classes for course requirements but that students should be strategic in their choices. 

Ian Ringgenberg, an adviser with the University Honors Program, said he recommends that pre-health students not change a required course to S/N grading or drop classes, if possible. 

“I think at the end of the day, we have to trust that institutions across the country are going to exercise some good judgment and grace in how they approach this semester,” he said. 

The Medical School is trying to remain as flexible as possible, said Dimple Patel, the school’s associate dean of admissions. 

“I don’t want us to hyper-focus on one aspect of a candidate’s academic profile,” Patel said. “I think the other part to this is we just don’t know how this is going to play out. So, now we’re okay accepting pass/fail courses from Spring 2020, and then we’ll have to revisit this as things unfold in the future.”

The Medical School has provided a comprehensive document of policies regarding S/N classes to prospective pre-health students looking to apply to the University. Meanwhile, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions has compiled a document listing the policies of other medical schools across the country.

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