Physics Class: Pass/Fail … or Bail?

Question: My daughter is an A-Honor Roll junior who took Biology as a freshman and Chemistry as a sophomore. She is taking Physics this year while taking Algebra 2/Trig. We just found out at parent/teacher conferences, after 2 months in the class, that having Alg. 2/Trig is required to do well in the class (although there was no prerequisite in the course catalog.) She has a C in the class now and the teacher said the material will only get harder. If she switches to pass/fail it won’t hurt her GPA, but it won’t help it either. The class will still count for her science graduation requirements. Does the pass/fail look bad to colleges, like a waste of time or does it look like she’s trying something above her level and therefore ambitious? We are also afraid that she will be stressed out all year trying to keep up. Another option is to drop the class, be a student aide the rest of the trimester, then take required courses, like Health for example, the other two trimesters. Her current schedule is Band, Physics, Alg. 2, Spanish 3, AP English, and AP U.S. History and her GPA is 3.7.

If your daughter has a pass/fail option, she should grab it and stick with physics. When it comes time to apply to colleges, she can briefly explain (in the “Additional Information” section of her applications or via a separate letter) that she elected a challenging course in spite of the fact that she hadn’t yet completed the math prerequisite, which is why she chose the pass/fail option.

She does NOT have to explain that she started out taking physics as a graded course and then switched (unless that is going to be on her transcript … which it probably won’t). She also doesn’t have to say that she was misled by the lack of a prerequisite listed in the catalog. Instead, just keep the explanation short and sweet.

(posted 10/24/2011)