GW should let underclassmen take classes pass/fail

When I started the second semester of my junior year last month, I met with my adviser to check on the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences graduation requirements. In addition to learning I was – thankfully – on track to graduate on time, I found out that as a junior, I am eligible to take a few classes pass/fail.

Juniors and seniors in good academic standing can take one elective per semester for a passing or failing grade – no letter grade. I wish I had known sooner into my time as an undergraduate student that I would be able to take some courses without worrying about how they would impact my GPA. Students should have more control over their academic plans and find ways to alleviate the pressure to succeed academically.

Cartoon by Annan Chen

While having the choice to take one pass/fail class each semester is helpful, especially during the two final stressful years of college, GW should change the policy to allow underclassmen to explore classes they may not have otherwise. CCAS could even add a policy that allows students to take two G-PAC classes with the pass/fail designation. Allowing more flexibility as to when students can take pass/fail classes and expanding the rule to include two G-PAC classes would let students comfortably try out new fields of study without having to worry that the grades will affect their GPAs.

Transitioning to college is difficult, and worrying about grades during that first semester or year is an added stressor. When I was a freshman, I immediately started taking G-PAC classes that would count for introductory requirements for my major. I felt hesitant to take classes I knew nothing about but thought might be interesting. The worry that I would fall behind on completing my requirements and the stress of maintaining a strong GPA during my first year dissuaded me from trying things outside of my comfort zone. But looking back on my first couple of years at GW, I wish I had taken the time to explore more classes and subjects I was not exposed to in high school. If officials alter the current G-PAC and pass/fail policies, students may actually try new things.

GW wouldn’t be the first university to extend a pass/fail policy to underclassmen. American University offers more flexibility with their pass/fail policy. AU students can take up to four pass/fail courses throughout their time as students during whichever semesters they wish.

Similarly, New York University students are permitted to take one pass/fail class during each of their undergraduate semesters. In total, they can take 32 pass/fail credits over four years. All the classes NYU students take pass/fail must be elective credits, but nevertheless, the freedom to choose at what point they want to use the option gives them more freedom.

CCAS should adopt American or NYU’s policies. As a student who has always excelled more in English and history, being required to take two science classes as a CCAS student was daunting. I wanted to take an introductory biology course because I loved the biology class I took in high school, but the fear that a college-level science class would be too difficult was enough for me to shy away from enrolling. Instead, I asked my friends for suggestions of classes that fulfilled the science G-PAC requirement and would be easy A’s.

G-PAC was created to “engage students in active intellectual inquiry across the liberal arts.” GW can change grading policies to encourage students to take classes they are generally interested in, not just classes they know they will get good grades in. Perhaps offering two pass/fail options within the G-PAC system would encourage students like me to actually take that biology class.

Encouraging students to take classes they are interested in rather than ones they think will boost their GPAs is an essential aspect of learning that universities tend to forget. Institutions of higher education have increasingly created campus environments where students are overly stressed about grades and extracurricular activities. Learning for the sake of learning sometimes takes the backseat. It would be in GW’s best interest to emphasize critical thought, learning and academic challenge without the pressures of grades and GPAs.

Sky Singer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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