Why the Pass/Fail Policy Matters

I’ll be honest. When I first read the email about the pass/fail policy this semester, I was upset. I have been working really hard this semester to boost my GPA, and I was looking forward to the chance to improve my performance during finals. I’ve been pretty anxious about this whole COVID-19 situation, and I felt like this was not the news I wanted to hear.

And then I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. After putting everything into perspective, I realized how much this pass/fail policy might mean to someone who is facing more difficulties than me right now. Throughout my time at law school, I have gotten involved in various diversity initiatives because I’m a woman of color and I know this puts me at a systemic disadvantage. I fight for these causes because they personally affect me. If I am so quick to stand up for causes that personally affect me, I should also be as committed to standing up even when my own interests might not be at stake.

Right now, I am in a place of privilege in terms of my circumstances with the coronavirus situation. Our school announced last Tuesday evening that we will have online classes for the rest of the semester. By Thursday, I had found a subletter to take over my apartment lease for the rest of the summer. By Saturday, I was back in the comfort of my home, where I’ll be spending the next few months with my family. At home, I not only get shelter, food, and emotional support (thanks Mom and Dad), but I also have multiple mobile devices, a quiet place to attend class uninterrupted, and stable internet access. While this whole situation is stressful, I am acutely aware that it could be so much worse – and for many of my friends, it is.

I feel for my friends who are spending the next few weeks in isolation because they weren’t able to go home when all of their roommates did. They shouldn’t have to worry about grades over their basic mental health needs. I feel for my friends with older family members who are especially susceptible to the virus, who need extra care right now. They shouldn’t have to worry about grades over their loved ones’ health and safety. I feel for my friends whose families are dealing with much larger financial issues and are further struggling to make ends meet. They shouldn’t have to worry about grades over mere survival. The COVID-19 outbreak has raised these concerns, and so many more. Just because I am not as affected by them does not invalidate the very real hardships of those who are more severely impacted.

Some have suggested that pass/fail should have been optional. But there are other problems that come with that choice. Some students might need to take the pass/fail option because of a sick parent or because they don’t have a quiet place to study, but they’ll hesitate to do so. If employers see that some of us have number grades while others have pass/fail, would they overlook the students who chose pass/fail while recruiting? For this reason, students whose circumstances require them to go pass/fail will be reluctant to use it, adding the pressure of grades to this already taxing time. An optional pass/fail policy would further disadvantage those who are already struggling most right now. In essence, the option to pass/fail wouldn’t really be an option at all.

To my friends who are understandably upset with the policy, I empathize. I know grades are important and that we wanted a chance to show improvement. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous about how pass/fail will affect me. I also know there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding our upcoming OCI and the legal job market in general. These are worries we all share, and we’re allowed to be disappointed. But I urge you to consider that many of our peers have heightened concerns on top of these. While we may be nervous about our future job prospects, others are wrestling with just getting through these next few months. The least our school can do is take the additional stress of grades off their shoulders. And I believe the least we fellow students can do is to accept, and not fight it.


This whole situation has been very stressful for everyone, but we don’t have to go through it alone. If anyone wants someone to talk to, about anything at all, please, please, please reach out at roma.gujarathi@bc.edu.

8 thoughts on “Why the Pass/Fail Policy Matters

  1. Thanks for the great points! On a personal note, however, I find the pass-fail change to be extremely stressful on top of everything else – an added blow that my hard work I already put in doesn’t matter and it feels like a complete waste of tuition money for a whole semester. I realize that this change benefits some and disadvantages others and it is all a balancing act to try to even the playing field in these uncertain times. But in my mind it seems like because we are all struggling with changes to some extent in this ordeal that it seemed unnecessary to change things even more. Pros and cons to both, and of course I am biased because I needed this semester’s gpa personally.

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    • I hear you! I totally get how the pass/fail change negatively impacts a lot of us. I, too, feel like my hard work this semester went down the drain. I also know that as a 1L, I take some solace in having two years left to boost my GPA, but 2Ls and 3Ls don’t have that same opportunity. So I understand that this change has been detrimental to you (and many others!) in ways I can’t even imagine.

      I think what this whole pandemic has given me some perspective on, though, is trying to put myself in the shoes of others, especially those who are in worse positions than me right now. I’ve been challenging myself to think from a more collective perspective. Does that mandatory pass/fail policy hurt me? Yes, undoubtedly so. But would the absence of such a policy hurt many of my peers exponentially more? I think yes. For instance, if a friend is currently facing a housing eviction, I can’t fathom how they’d manage to attend class, do the readings, and prepare for final exams. After considering situations like these, I ultimately believe the mandatory pass/fail is preferable to any other policy for the collective. Even so, I understand, and personally share, your frustrations, as well.

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      • I agree to an extent. Except that I don’t think that if you are struggling to a greater extent with external issues related to the state of the world it would necessarily mean that you desire the pass-fail option. It even has the potential to make a stressful situation more stressful. Still, I don’t know which way hurts the least amount of people and sure maybe this is the way to go.

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  2. Pingback: Even Grades Aren’t Immune | Boston College Law School Magazine

  3. I love this and totally agree. I was also shocked by the news at first. But then it took me all but 10 minutes to realize how much of a reprieve it really was. This is an incredibly stressful and unpredictable time for many students. If grades are your top concern right now, you should recognize that that’s a privilege others at BC cannot share at the moment.

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  4. Danny, I think the concern is necessarily only about a semester’s gpa, but concern about employability when graduating into a now questionable environment. Everyone (everyone) is struggling with changes right now that have nothing to do with gpa and another change related to grading can throw people off even more so. It is all situational. The school made a choice aiming to harm the least amount of students but neither way is perfect.

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    • My understanding was that the school didn’t make a choice to harm the least number of students, but rather to prevent further crippling the students already struggling most. It’s not perfect, but in this situation, I don’t see any perfect solution at all.

      I want to reiterate that I say none of this to invalidate your experiences. As you said, no choice is going to be ideal. And again, I know the concern goes much farther than a single semester’s GPA and that it does affect future employment in an already uncertain market. I do hear you and agree that the mandatory pass/fail is by no means perfect.

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