On Sept. 17, Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron announced in a campus-wide email that the University Senate had voted to allow undergraduates the option to request Pass/No Pass grading for General Education and elective courses for the fall semester.
The email also declared that decisions on Pass/No Pass options for major and minor courses would be decided by individual colleges—for instance, the College of Arts and Sciences is adopting the Pass/No pass option, while the College of Nursing is not.
While this announcement was cause for joy and celebration for underclassmen, the same could not be said for seniors applying to graduate school. Already doused in the stress of the application process and GRE, potential candidates must now make a decision: loosen up their schedule and focus on applications or commit to the grind.
Dr. Alicia Bertone, Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Ohio State University Graduate School, aims to help ease this stressor.
“I don’t think students should be in any panic—I really think selecting a Pass/No Pass for last semester and for this semester is not an uncommon event to help you get through these times,” she said. “There are limitations, it isn’t like you’re just going to have no grades on your transcript.”
Bertone also stressed that although grades are an important aspect of the applicant’s acceptance, committees also focus on other factors such as leadership roles, course selection, and extracurricular involvements.
“Graduate programs are very holistic in how they review students; it’s not just the grades,” she said. “This includes other courses that they did take for grade, how [a student] shows the graduate school that [they] will be a success when [they] get there—that’s really the total package.”
Pre-Law Coordinator and Advisor Kevin Freeman seconds Bertone’s thoughts on having a well-balanced transcript. He also advises students to add something else to that transcript—a simple note.
“Whenever there’s anything unusual on a transcript, it makes sense for students to write an addendum to explain what’s going on,” he said. “It’s not a blanket policy this semester, so I think students do want to write something in their application file that just says ‘Here’s what was going on,’ and schools will interpret that as they want.”
Freeman explained that last semester, the Law School Admission council committed to putting a COVID-19 note in every applicant’s file, meaning that even first-year students who took the pass/no pass option in spring of 2020 would have an addendum in their transcript when applying after their 2023 graduation.
“This semester is different because no longer is it sudden; everyone knew going in what the semester was going to be like,” he said. “There was more of an opportunity to get yourself in the mindset you need to be able to take on whatever the course requires. Law schools are still going to be understanding, but I think it would help a student if they explain why.”
While Freeman and Bertone both hope to dispel any negative connotations towards Pass/No Pass, they still want students to understand the impact of their decision.
“What I think is of more concern to students is what I call the mastery of the material,” Bertone said. “If you were thinking about graduate school, that’s what the graduate schools are looking for. They’re looking for evidence that the student—at a more advanced level where there’s even going to be greater expectations and more rigor—that the student will be able to be successful.”
Bertone also advises students to openly discuss their options with advisors and faculty members who have been through the graduate school process themselves.
“How a business major might look at getting into an MBA program may be very different than an engineer major looking to get into a Ph.D. program in engineering,” she said. “Knowing what those faculty think, knowing their field and what the people will be looking for within that field is really important.”
The deadline to apply for the Pass/No Pass option is Nov. 20 for General Education and elective courses. Information on major and minor deadlines chosen by each college can be found here.