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Pass-Fail Hurts Grad School Chances

Admissions Officers Prefer Grades

By Philip E. Clapp

A recent nationwide educational survey indicates that students whose academic records include a large number of pass-fail courses are at a disadvantage in applying to graduate and professional schools.

An article in the fall issue of Educational Record, a publication of the American Council on Education, reported that admissions directors at more than 300 graduate schools felt that evaluation of pass-fail grades was "extremely difficult, if not impossible."

"The greater the proportion of a student's record which is reported in terms of a non-traditional grading system," Edward I. Stevens, the author of the article, wrote, "the greater the potential for difficulty in entering another institution."

In addition, the survey showed that students graded on a pass-fail basis have difficulty in obtaining financial aid at most graduate schools when admitted.

Pass-fail grades are the most disadvantageous at, professional schools, Stevens says.

Confronted with a largely pass-fail record, law schools are forced to rely heavily on LSAT scores as the only measurement of the student's aptitude, the survey shows.

Stevens reported that medical school admissions officers frowned upon grades other than the traditional A through F system because of the extra time involved in evaluating them.

"At present," one admissions officer wrote, "the task of evaluation requires much reading and interpretation of grades, recommendations, and activities. To add copious evaluation in lieu of grades would be frowned upon in light of 5500 applications."

Admissions officers at Harvard graduate schools contacted yesterday indicated general agreement with the results of the Educational Record survey.

Russell Simpson, dean of admissions at the Law School, said that his committee prefers graded course work.

"Written evaluations submitted in place of grades tend to be pretty standard and don't provide much of a way of ranking applicants," Simpson said.

However, students who are obviously outstanding are not really hurt by pass-fail grades, Simpson said. "It's the borderline student that really suffers," he said.

The Medical School takes a more adamant stand. "Pass-fail grades in science courses are of no help to us," said Perry J. Culver, dean of admissions at the Med School. "We don't even try to evaluate them," he said.

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