Taking a class as pass-fail is an option in college, especially for subject areas outside of your major or where you do not want to worry about receiving a letter grade. Each college has its own policies regarding pass-fail classes. Whether and when the classes affect your GPA depends on your college’s individual policies. In general, pass-fail courses do not count towards your GPA. You receive credit toward graduation for the classes you pass, but they don't typically affect your GPA.
Purpose of Pass-Fail Option
The purpose of pass-fail classes is to allow you to explore another subject area without worrying about whether you have enough academic background to do well. You generally take elective courses on a pass-fail basis. You can't normally take your university’s core curriculum or classes you have to take for your major on a pass-fail basis. A foreign language course usually doesn't work as a pass-fail class. If you take a course in your major in excess of the minimum required for your major, your college may allow you to take the course on a pass-fail basis.
To take a class as pass-fail, you typically designate that you want to do so during registration. Then, confirm that you want to continue the class on the pass-fail basis before the final registration deadline. It can affect your GPA if you decide to take the class on a pass-fail basis after the deadline, but can't switch it to pass-fail. If you are failing, the class will negatively affect your GPA. Read your college’s pass-fail policies closely for information about its deadlines.
Affecting Your GPA
In most cases, a pass-fail course doesn't affect your GPA. If you pass the course, you receive a designation on your transcript that you passed the class, but your GPA doesn't reflect the points you would have received if you took the course on an A-to-F grading basis. If you fail the class, you don't receive credit for the course. Your transcript states that you failed the class, but your GPA isn't negatively affected in some colleges. If you fail a class at other colleges, you may get an F, or zero points, figured into your GPA.
Making the Choice
Talk with your departmental adviser if you want to take a course on a pass-fail basis. Take into account the minimum GPA you need to maintain scholarships or to get into graduate school. Think about what types of courses you have interest in and whether you are confident you can succeed in them based on your academic background.
Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.