I never missed deadlines. But when my roommate asked me if I converted my “Introduction to Psychology” class from Credit/D/Fail to a letter grade, I realized with a sinking feeling that I had missed the deadline the previous day. At the time, I thought this was just a minor slip-up — I still was the person I thought I was, punctual and conscientious.

I sat in my chair for a few moments, incredulous. As my small fiasco dawned on me, I could not bring myself to imagine taking the class for the rest of the semester for only a credit, or having the work I had done in class so far come to naught. I had no idea how to deal with the situation into which I was thrown, and I tried to think of solutions to my problem — could I log onto the conversion website and still find it open or call the dean to rectify my issue? My mind raced in circles around a possibility I had already lost.

The feelings of disbelief and dismay that arose within me in those first few moments gave way to another one I cannot explain so easily — I was indignant. Even though I had declared the class Credit/D/Fail at the beginning of the semester aware of my responsibility to change it back, and read emails and reminders about the deadline, I resented the regulations I had once accepted because they would not forgive my simple mistake. Incidentally, I committed a fallacy I had learned about in the class — attributing my personal failings to extrinsic rather than intrinsic factors.

Now I know that I am not the person who does not miss deadlines, but hopefully I will be the person who accepts full responsibility for her mistakes. I signed onto Credit/D/Fail consciously and am willing to stick with it.

The tougher question, however, is not why I was disappointed about making a mistake but why I felt so upset about not converting my psychology class to a letter grade. The obvious answer is that I wanted my efforts in the class to be rewarded with a favorable grade.

But that answer raises even more troubling questions. Did I put in all my effort just to earn a reward? Do I define academic rewards solely in terms of letter grades? Did I declare my psychology class Credit/D/Fail just to safeguard my grade point average? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, as implied by my initial distress at not converting from Credit/D/Fail to a letter grade, then I seriously need to re-evaluate my academic values.

I admit that I do a lot of work — reading, papers, studying for exams — for the mere objective of receiving high scores from teaching fellows, but I would like to believe that my motivations for working are not purely numerical or end-driven. Over the years, I ha
ve heard parents and teachers say repeatedly that numbers alone do not define me and that learning itself is a reward. I wonder how much these truisms actually permeate my academic experience. I have enjoyed my psychology lectures so far, but perhaps the enjoyment stemmed from my perception that attending lectures was necessary to earning high grades.

Now, the irrevocable Credit/D/Fail status of my class leaves me at an interesting juncture. I can figure out whether I have sufficient motivation to keep learning and attending lectures and working, or whether I want to allocate my time and energy elsewhere. Without the prospect of a concrete reward in the future, I have the occasion to learn about psychology in the present.

I wish I could take all of my classes with the same freedom. Education, after all, is never an obligation, although it sometimes seems like one because I tend to overvalue its numerical benefits. I am not saying that letter grades are unnecessary, and I am not calling for changes in the present grading system, but I do encourage students to think and remind themselves of their priorities as students. The Credit/D/Fail system, in particular, can be used as an auxiliary way to maximize benefits from the letter grading system, but it can also provide an invaluable chance to take classes for the sheer sake of learning.

Missing the Credit/D/Fail deadline may have upset my plans for the future, but right now I have the opportunity to pursue education on my own time.

Amanda Mei is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact her at amanda.mei@yale.edu.