Three students petitioned the College of Arts and Sciences last week to reform the Pass/Fail system in an attempt to update the time-honored practice of taking classes without the pressure of earning a top grade.
Three College sophomores Emily Lurie, Raquel Szomstein and Elena Prieto, sent out a survey on Tuesday afternoon asking students to rate the current iteration of Pass/Fail. They also introduced their proposal, which allows students to declare a class as Pass/Fail up until one semester after taking the class, rather than having a distinct deadline within the class.
Since Tuesday, they have received thousands of responses from over 25 percent of the undergraduate population. Out of this feedback, 96.4 percent of respondents voted “yes” to the new proposal.
“Obviously, this won’t be easy to change, so we had to show that people care,” Lurie said in an interview. “We sent out the survey and got insane results.”
The students’ proposal aims to encourage their peers to explore classes outside of their chosen major or field of study without fearing the impact on their GPA.
The current Pass/Fail policy requires that the College student declares a class as Pass/Fail within the first five weeks of the semester. A student can take up to eight courses as Pass/Fail that only count as general education requirements.
A major issue within this policy, Lurie said, is that students have to decide if they would like to make the class Pass/Fail too early in the semester. This is a time when there are not enough grades to determine where they stand in the class. A student may end up with a grade they are proud of after declaring the course Pass/Fail and are left unable reverse the process.
The proposal started when Szomstein sent a suggestion to the College Dean’s Advisory Board to reform the system. She entered college undecided on what to study and “wanted to try everything” except for physics. She tried biology, which she loved in high school, but found the pre-med curriculum too intense. After finishing the semester with a grade that brought down her GPA, she felt functionally penalized for being undecided.
“I never expected it to be taken so seriously, but I wanted my perspective and experience to at least be heard,” she said.
Many respondents who responded ‘yes’ to the proposal said that they believed it could be helpful in strengthening the mental health on campus, while some of the ‘no’ responses stemmed from criticism of students who would want to take a class Pass/Fail in general.
As someone who took a gap year, Prieto said by the time she got to Penn she was already a year removed from high school academics.
“We found that as freshmen coming in as undecided majors, it was very difficult to find classes that we were interested in without a fear of being automatically behind,” Prieto said.
The students have not approached faculty yet with their idea.
“This is not a hard policy we have drafted. It was more of a means to see if students are interested and agree that there is a need for change, Lurie said. “We are very open to suggestions from students and faculty.”
“This would be a really good safety net for students who want to take risks,” Prieto added.
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