Pass/Fail: Only Done Once

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“I wish pass/fail would be over,” one friend told me.


Another friend shrugged and said, “Who cares, it’s pass and fail.” Um no, if it’s pass and fail it means you actually failed a class!

Pass/fail at Swarthmore is a system in which first year students can take classes of their first semester with credit or no credit. I have had many conversations over Swarthmore’s pass/fail system. But so far I have had only one friend tell me that he wants pass/fail to end. His reason was that he did not get enough pressure to do well and that was making him slack off. My thought was “what a Swattie. Only a Swattie would want more pressure.”

Yes, this pass/fail system calls for self-discipline. If you actually take this system to heart and slack off completely, you actually will fail.

But if you actually do have self-discipline, then you can use this system to learn how to transition to college life. By the end of the semester, you may have learned a thing or two on how to work your way through the hectic life at Swat without looking like a character out of The Walking Dead.

The system allows us to learn what kind of studying schedule works for us with our social life, as well as how much effort we need to put into our school work. Especially as a student from Japan who went to a local Japanese private school, the methods that I use to study has changed drastically. The longest paper I have written before was five pages, and it was a paper for my English class.

The pass/fail system is also beneficial for students in that it allows students to venture into the realms of the unknown.Students can find new academic interests as they are not being pressured to receive straight As and to be an academic superstar. Students can explore fields that are outside of their preconceived fields of interest. This system represents Swarthmore as a true liberal arts college because it allows students to be an academic of various fields.

Students can also experiment with new activities. I have never written for a school paper and here I am. I have even taken up kick boxing and rugby. I even took ballet! This school offers so many new opportunities, and the pass/fail allows students to indulge in their cravings for new activities.

The beginning of college is also a crucial time to get to know new people. Discussing politics at Sharples, talking about relationships at Mccabe (because obviously the library is the most private place to hold conferences on love), and watching stupid TV shows with friends. Pass/fail takes the pressure off of school work, and creating a space where we not only learn from classes and books, but also from socializing.

The pass/fail system makes our life at Swarthmore fruitful when we use it well.

Lisa Kato

Went to school in Japan from the age of 10 to 18. I play the violin, love to read and watch movies. I am interested in politics and economics and often write for the opinions section and news section.

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