Yale Daily News

Starting in the 2020-2021 academic year, Yale College changed its regulations regarding the use of the Credit/D/Fail option for undergraduate students — and many of those students have welcomed the change.

Prior to the current academic year, students were given four opportunities throughout their undergraduate years to employ what is known as the Credit/D/Fail option — a mode of grading in which students can take classes for credit rather than for a letter grade if they earn above a D+ in a class. The option is intended to encourage academic exploration and promote diversity in students’ classes. But starting this past fall, two more opportunities to exercise the Credit/D/Fail option are now offered to students, for a grand total of six. 

Still, the added option comes with a caveat: The two extra opportunities expire if unused during a student’s first two terms of enrollment, according to the Yale College Programs of Study 2020-2021. Further, students have more time to convert a course to Credit/D/Fail. In this and future school years, students have until the last day of classes to do so. 

“We are always looking for ways to reduce unnecessary or excessive stress that students may be feeling about their school work,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun told the News. “We want students to be able to enjoy their classes and their learning without having to feel too much pressure or anxiety about grades. The Credit/D/Fail option is obviously one way to encourage students to try out new things because one of the most important things you can get out of college is to explore new topics and learn something new.”

Chun told the News that the change was “data-driven,” and that the Yale College Dean’s Office Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising suggested this change in response to feedback from students. Those students viewed their Credit/D/Fail opportunities as “a precious commodity that they were hoarding and saving for a rainy day, rather than using when they may have needed them.”

According to Chun, this “hoarding mentality” was working against students — especially first-year students for whom the Credit/D/Fail system is often most useful as they adjust to college academics.

“The two extra Credit/D/Fail opportunities that students now have in their first year will solve many of those problems by fundamentally encouraging exploration and reducing stress,” Chun said.

In addition to providing two extra opportunities for younger students to use the Credit/D/Fail option, Chun explained that another major change was extending the deadline to to select the Credit/D/Fail option for a course. Prior to this academic year, students were required to select whether they were using a Credit/D/Fail opportunity for a class by midterm. Now, according to the Yale College Calendar with Pertinent Deadlines, all students have until the last day of classes to convert a full-term course from a letter grade to Credit/D/Fail. This change will remain in place even after the pandemic is over.

And for Lex Schultz ’24, those changes were extremely helpful. Schultz explained to the News that she exercised one Credit/D/Fail opportunity last semester — her first semester at Yale — and it “ended up taking a huge weight off of [her] shoulders near finals.”

Schultz added that while she doesn’t think she will use all of the Credit/D/Fail opportunities awarded to students, it made her feel better to know that she had a safety net.

“I think it’s beneficial in the case of taking classes that aren’t related to your major or even just difficult classes,” Schultz told the News. “Everyone has rough days and rough semesters, and it’s comforting to know that a random class won’t affect your GPA.”

Saket Malhotra ’23, academics chair for the Yale College Council, similarly believes that the changes to the Credit/D/Fail are beneficial to first-year students.

He told the News that the changes encourage students to take more risks and explore new subjects with regards to their course selection, as well as support them through the transition to college academics.

“It is also very important to note that entering Yale, students from underserved districts may not have the same training and experience with Yale-style curriculum as those from college preparatory schools, so such first year-specific policies help level the playing field a little bit more,” Malhotra wrote in an email to the News.

For the spring 2021 term, the last day to convert a class to Credit/D/Fail is May 7.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu