Pass/Fail Won’t Hamper College Dreams, Experts Say

As school districts all over the country – including Highland Park ISD and Dallas ISD – have moved to remote learning, they’ve also had to tackle how to grade student work.

For many schools, that has meant opting for pass/fail grading – looking at the student effort, past performance, and attendance to determine if they get credit for that course.

And it’s been a concept that has been the cause of plenty of worries – especially for high schoolers looking at college applications.

Independent guidance counselor Casey Gendason and Parish Episcopal School counselor Sam Suchala said students could breathe – those pass/fail scores will not hamper your ability to get into college.

“Students will definitely be admitted to colleges with pass/fail grades,” Gendason said. “Colleges have been sending email updates to college counselors daily, and the messages are very similar from one college to the next: ‘We are going to be understanding when it comes to second-semester grades, we know that extra-curricular activities are on hold, and we anticipate that this summer may look very different compared to previous summers.’”

“Flexibility will be the key for institutions, and organization will be the key for students.” -Sam Suchala

And for some students, other test scores and grades will also provide colleges information.

“For any students participating in AP classes, taking the AP test for that class provides another measurement of learning,” Suchala said. “Senior year first trimester or semester grades will be significant to the process.”

Scholarships that are based on class rank or grade point averages will not be out of the question, either.

“Many colleges are moving to test-optional for one to two years because standardized test scores will be harder to acquire,” said Suchala. “Flexibility will be the key for institutions, and organization will be the key for students.”

“Scholarship programs will also be understanding and are aware that GPA and class rank will likely look different compared to previous years,” Gendason said.

“Colleges are in discussion about how they plan to adapt to these changes, especially with pass/fail grades, and will inform high schools and rising seniors when they have finalized their decisions,” he added. “The context surrounding a student’s situation will be even more important when the Class of 2021 applies to colleges.”

And how can a student stand out when they’re homebound? Gendason said schools will be looking for creativity – and now is a great time to try to learn another language, learn to cook, pick up a new hobby, or research something.

“If you have a genuine interest, go after it – you may be asked in a written format or verbally during an interview, ‘So, how did you spend your quarantine time?’” he said.

“One of my students is learning calligraphy,” Suchala said. “Remember the value of service to your family and community, whether that is taking care of siblings or helping a neighbor with yard work.”

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at

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