Pass/No Pass Grades and College Admissions

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In response to the historic health crisis, many school district officials sent millions of students home with little or no planning for the continuity of their education. Thus, as they implemented Emergency Learning, hastily shifting whole schools from brick and mortar buildings to virtual settings, many also changed grading policies, seeking to relieve stress for students and their families. 

In California, like elsewhere in the country, for the Spring 2020 semester, many school district officials implemented Pass/No Pass marks for all secondary school students, including those in five of California’s largest districts—Los Angeles Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District, and San Francisco Unified School District. 

Adding complexity, in Spring 2020, students in some school districts, like San Juan Unified School District in the Northern California suburbs of Sacramento, could choose to keep academic letter grades or change to Pass/No Pass marks. 

Furthermore, in Summer 2021, the California Legislature passed AB 104, where California students can pick and choose to retroactively change any grade during the 2020-21 school year to Pass/No Pass marks. Thus, for the 2020-21 school year, students may have a mix of academic letter grades and Pass/No Pass marks on their transcript, as well as the Pass/No Pass marks of the previous Spring 2020 semester. 

Pass/No Pass marks cannot be calculated in a GPA, yet many colleges, including the University of California (UC) and California State Universities (CSU), still award credit for admissions eligibility. Furthermore, many school districts did not print students’ potential academic letter grades on transcripts for context to the broad Pass/No Pass marks. 

In applying to colleges outside of California, where admissions officers may be unaware of the change in California’s academic grading policies, students would be prudent to share their individual experience in response to the COVID-related application questions. Additionally, students can ask their high school counselors how the grading policy changes are highlighted in the School Profile, which is submitted with the counselor’s letter of recommendation

While the Pass/No Pass marks temporarily relieved students of academic pressures in the early days of the ongoing national health crisis, the implications for college admissions, particularly for students’ GPA’s will have lasting consequences for years to come.


For more information about how Creative Marbles experts can help students and parents navigate the complex college admissions and essay writing process, contact us at Creative Marbles Consultancy

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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