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Editorial: Graduate schools should ease Pass/No Pass class policies in light of pandemic

By Editorial Board

March 27, 2020 5:24 p.m.

Online classes, uncertain graduation ceremonies and a global pandemic seem like enough stress to warrant taking a Pass/No Pass class.

Unfortunately, those classes create a new set of stressors for Bruins with their sights set on graduate school.

Students at UCLA have been sent home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with instruction to take place remotely through the end of spring. Needless to say, the situation has created immense stress for students, some of whom have lost jobs or been directly impacted by the virus.

Fortunately, students are allowed more control over the stressors of academic life – and that’s where Pass/No Pass grading systems come in. UCLA recently made this grading option easier to access by allowing students to take multiple classes on a Pass/No Pass basis and allowing them to make their choice later in the quarter.

But what might sound like a perfect alternative is also an option many students don’t have.

That’s because most graduate schools, including medical schools like the David Geffen School of Medicine, don’t look favorably upon applicants who take many classes on a Pass/No Pass basis in college – a fact which may discourage many students from even considering the option during their last quarter of an unexpectedly short senior year.

In order to truly make Pass/No Pass classes available to students looking for relief this spring, graduate schools must make a commitment not to hold the decision against applicants – at least not for students who make the decision only for this term. As the No. 1 public university in the nation, UCLA’s graduate schools have an opportunity to announce this new policy in their admissions – and set a precedent for other universities to prioritize the mental well-being of their students.

This is especially important considering the massive stress and frustration already placed on graduating seniors.

For many, this is the first major crisis they will be experiencing as adults. Add to that the fact that they will be learning remotely from professors who have yet to master a Zoom conference and it becomes clear that spring quarter will be unprecedented in its difficulty.

But changing graduate school admissions policies during this crisis is one small detail that could make a world of difference.

Considering the massive changes over the past weeks, the looming uncertainty of the future and the stretched capacity of Counseling and Psychological Services and other on-campus mental health resources, the university would be wise to implement anything that could ease the burden.

UCLA has acted quickly to make sweeping changes to the availability of its Pass/No Pass system, and it’s a good first step. But while that gives students the option of alleviating their stress by choosing a grading method, it does nothing to ease their fears that doing so might harm their futures in academia.

Granted, the university has a lot on its plate. But announcing this change immediately and advocating for other universities to do the same could stand to have a truly meaningful impact on hopeful graduate school applicants across the country.

Because otherwise, the option of Pass/No Pass is no option at all.

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