Should I Take the “Pass” or the Grade?

Question: I took an AP History class and I had an average of a 70. My principal gave me the option to switch my 70 for a “P” on my transcript. Which grade looks better to colleges? She offered me the same option for physiology. Thanks for your help!

You PROBABLY want to take the “P” (at least in AP History) and not the 70, but it’s irresponsible to answer this in a vacuum. “The Dean” could respond more responsibly with answers to questions like these:

-How many other classes are you taking now and how are you doing in them?

-If you take a “P” in one or two classes, how will this be factored into your GPA?

-What is your Physiology grade … also a 70?

-Where are you applying to college?

-How are your grades overall …  e.g., do you have mostly 90’s and above or are the 70’s already well represented?

-Do you have other “P’s” on your record from past semesters?

-What other history and science classes have you taken and how did you do in them?

-Will your “School Profile” explain a “P” and, if so, what will it say?  For instance, does the Profile proclaim that “Students with a grade above a 60 in a class can request a “P” instead of a numerical grade”? (This could suggest that you almost failed … that your grades are even worse than they really are.) Or does it say something like, “Students can elect to take up to four classes in four years on a Pass/Fail basis.” (Not damaging at all.)

-Is it common for students at your school to take classes on a “Pass/Fail” basis?

-What is your intended college major?

Admission officials typically make “holistic” decisions and will look at any “P” on your transcript in the context of other information, such as the answers to the questions that I’ve listed above. If you are applying primarily to large universities that emphasize GPA and test scores alone when making admission decision, and if your “P’s” will not be considered in your cumulative GPA, then agreeing to a couple “P’s,” might be the way to go. However, for most colleges, unless you are taking a long list of classes this term (perhaps TOO long?) and doing very well in most of them, a first-semester senior transcript with two “P’s” on it could work against you. You are far more likely to get away with just one, especially if it’s not in an area you plan to pursue in college (e.g., if you’re clearly not a “science person,” then a “P” in physiology won’t hurt as much as if you’re aiming for pre-med).

So, if you want to write back with answers to all of those questions, I may be able to advise you more effectively. Meanwhile, it’s important for all students to recognize that admission officials rarely few even a single grade in isolation but, instead, will look at it as part of a bigger picture.

(posted 11/10/2016)