Semester grade changes raise questions for future grad students

Courtney TIetjen
The J. Reuben Clark Building. Many students applying to law school worry if the pass/fail option BYU is offering this semester will hinder their admissions. (Courtney Tietjen)

A pass/fail option was meant to alleviate academic stress during the quarantine adjustment period; however, BYU students are wondering if this option will affect them negatively during the grad school admissions process.

BYU sent an email on March 23 announcing a pass/fail option for Winter 2020 was instituted as an alternative to standard grade submissions. Students can now choose to keep the standard letter grade given by professors or move to a pass/fail option for each course. 

Due to the high number of students reaching out to the Pre-Professional Advisement Center about the issue, advisors gathered current information about how the pass/fail might affect applications for professional schools.

According to the website advisors provided, pre-health students should keep in mind that medical schools still value grades over a pass/fail, particularly in prerequisite courses, and using the pass/fail option may hurt the student’s chances when applying.

For law school applicants, the consequences of the pass/fail option are less intense, according to BYU Pre-Law Advisor Kris Tina Carlston. “One semester of pass/fail grades should have very little to any impact on your application.”

Some pass/fail classes may not make as much of a difference on law applications because there are no prerequisites for applying to law school. However, Carlston said it’s better to aim for higher grades since there is a strong emphasis on grades and LSAT performance when it comes to evaluating students’ applications.

While BYU journalism student Anna Bryner is grateful that BYU implemented the pass/fail option, she is hoping to avoid using it. This is the last semester that will go on Bryner’s transcript when she applies to law school. Bryner expressed concern that if she uses a pass for certain classes, it would indicate she didn’t receive the grade she hoped for.

“Although I’ve experienced the basic disruptions many students have, my personal disruptions haven’t been enough to warrant a resort to the pass/fail option,” Bryner said.

She said she’s been working hard in school leading up to the pandemic, so she wants to get credit in a letter grade form for those efforts.

“It’s nice to know that if my grades happened to tank, I wouldn’t have to keep them,” Bryner said. “Law schools would probably be fine if I accepted the pass/fail option, and that’s probably a wise thing for potential law students to do who’ve been seriously disrupted by the pandemic. I just feel that in my particular situation, I might as well still try for the letter grades.” 

Bryner considered resorting to taking the pass/fail to have more time to study for the LSAT, but because the pandemic struck so close to the end of the semester, she decided she might as well just finish the semester strong.

If students have particular grad schools in mind, reaching out to them and asking how they will view these grades is encouraged. Advisors are available to answer questions through Zoom appointments through the Pre-Professional Advisement Center.

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