Patrick Rochelle: Don’t pass up pass/fail classes

There are few things more frustrating in collegiate life than constructing your class schedule.

As I sat in my room this holiday break, tweaking my schedule for spring semester and scanning a long list of open courses, I had a familiar epiphany: There are a number of economics and science classes that I would like to take but won’t, as they might hurt my GPA.

The truth is, the University’s current pass/fail policy has students running scared when it should be encouraging and inviting them to experiment academically. All too often, students are given no incentives to take academic risks. This should not be the case. As a solution, the provost’s office should encourage students to take intellectual risks by expanding the current policy to allow all students to take two general curriculum requirements pass/fail.

As the policy currently stands, many schools allow upperclassmen to take their electives pass/fail. But despite this option, pass/fail is still not a popular or integral part of the university’s academic community or culture.

It should be.

While it makes sense that the pass/fail policy be used for electives, schools should extend this option to the general curriculum requirements. Take for example, a student in the Columbian College who needs to fulfill a science or math GCR. Students might decide to take a more challenging chemistry or calculus course if they had reassurance that their hard work would be evaluated on a pass/fail basis.

Often a student’s undergraduate education feels like a long list of requirements and years devoted to bolstering one’s GPA. But let’s not forget that the real purpose of college is to give students a chance to obtain a broad based education. One’s years as an undergraduate should be a time when students are encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones and take academic risks.

Of course, extending GW’s pass/fail option would create opportunities for students to slack off. With 10,000 undergraduates, some would undoubtedly try to abuse the system. To combat this problem, the University should insist that all students who elect to take a GCR pass/fail gain approval from their academic advisors.

Providing students more freedom to shape and cultivate their own education will allow them to take intellectual and academic risks that they might not have previously thought possible. This kind of academic personalization will give students the chance to capitalize on the value of their college experience and to broaden their undergraduate education.

As much as I’d like to take an economics class, I won’t. And that’s a shame.

Patrick Rochelle, a junior majoring in English, is a Hatchet columnist.

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