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Articles / Applying to College / Physics Class: Pass/Fail ... or Bail?

Oct. 24, 2011

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)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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