Taking a UW-Madison Course Pass/Fail

This document explains the purpose of pass/fail and what grade will be recorded for L&S undergraduate students if they opt to take a course for pass/fail and how it impacts a student's GPA. The following campus-wide pass/fail policy went into effect for all UW-Madison undergraduate students as of fall 2015.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

The purpose of the pass/fail privilege is to provide students with the opportunity to take elective coursework outside of their major field of study and to learn without concern for the grade impacting their grade point average (GPA).   The pass/fail option is a student's choice and the instructor reports the final grade for a course without any knowledge of whether or not a student is taking the course on a pass/fail basis.   

In short, the pass/fail grading option was created for the following reasons:
  1. to encourage students to take courses of interest outside of their major/field of specialization
  2. to provide students who have not decided upon a major the opportunity to explore their talents in a particular field of study that may be of interest

Process for Requesting the Pass/Fail Grading Option

Students indicate that they would like to have a course they are enrolled in graded on a pass/fail basis by making the request in their Student Center (MyUW).   Detailed information can be found at student center - course change request.   Students may submit pass/fail requests via their Student Center from the time that they enroll until midnight on the Friday at the end of the fourth week of fall and spring semesters. (For modular and summer session courses, pass/fail requests must be submitted by midnight Friday of the week in which the session is one-fourth completed.)

The deadline for requesting the pass/fail grading option is posted on the Office of the Registrar website. These deadlines are based on the idea that the pass/fail option is intended to encourage students to explore educational opportunities that they might otherwise not be willing to attempt. Pass/fail is not intended as a way for students to avoid academic consequences.

Once the student has submitted their request to take a course on a pass/fail basis the request is routed via SIS workflow to an academic dean in their school or college for approval or further communication with the student. The school/college official must approve the request before the grading option is changed to pass/fail by the Office of the Registrar.

Students can see whether a course is being graded on a pass/fail basis in their Student Center.

  1. For study abroad programs operated by the College of Engineering, courses taken abroad toward an engineering major will be posted as pass/fail. This occurs automatically and is not a student option; this practice is not covered or impacted by this policy.
  2. Note, however, that since the implementation of the Student Information System (SIS), it is possible that instructors may have access to ISIS information showing the grading basis of the course. Therefore, some instructors may discover that a student is taking the course on a pass fail basis. Students may, of course, share this information with their instructors if they choose.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

This proposed common pass/fail policy only applies to degree-seeking students who are in the undergraduate (UGRD) career. It only applies to courses that use the default A-F grading scale (GRD) and that also allow students to choose to take a course on a pass/fail (PF) basis.

  • The instructor enters the letter grade earned by the students on their grade roster, and those letter grades are subsequently recorded as a pass (S) or fail (U) on the student record. A pass (S) will be recorded when a letter grade of A through C is earned. A fail (U) will be recorded when a letter grade of D or F is earned. In addition to the S or U notation, the student transcript includes the symbol # for courses that were taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Neither the S nor the U is used in computing the grade point average.
  • Instructors are not informed that a student has elected to take the course pass/fail. 

What is the deadline for pass/fail registration (or cancellation)?

  • spring and fall term: the Friday of the fourth week of class (see Registrar's official semester calendar for exact dates under Deadlines at a Glance)
  • modular courses & summer sessions: the Friday of the week where 1/4th of the course is completed. (In a four-week class, it would be the Friday of the first week of class, for example).

Modular Courses and Summer Pass/Fail Deadlines

The pass/fail deadline for the College of Letters & Science undergraduate students enrolled in a modular course or during the summer term/session is the end of the one-quarter of the session, extended to the following Friday. The following rules apply to L&S undergraduate students enrolled in a summer session on the UW-Madison campus:

  • For a student enrolled in a modular course or a summer session/term less than two weeks, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 1st week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a two-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 1st week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a three-week modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 1st week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a four-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 1st week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a five-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 1st week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a six-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 2nd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a seven-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 2nd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in an eight-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 2nd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a nine-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 3rd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a ten-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 3rd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in an eleven-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 3rd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a twelve-week  modular course or a summer session/term, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 3rd week on Friday.
  • For a student enrolled in a modular course or a summer session/term of more than twelve weeks, the pass/fail deadline is the end of the 4th week on Friday.

Prior to the pass/fail deadline, a student may cancel pass/fail registration and take the course on a regular graded basis.  

**Students cannot cancel a pass/fail request after the deadline if they need the course (or courses) to fulfill a major or degree requirement at a later date. It is a student's responsibility to work with his/her undergraduate advisor to determine whether or not s/he can take a course on a pass/fail basis.


Information on how to add or remove pass/fail can be found at course change request.

Any UW-Madison undergraduate student in good academic standing is eligible to request the pass/fail option.   Undergraduates may carry only one (1) course on a pass/fail basis per term and a maximum of sixteen (16) credits during their undergraduate career at UW-Madison.  
  • For L&S undergraduate students, good academic standing means a student is not on probation or in dropped status. L&S undergraduate students are not eligible to declare pass/fail if they are on:
    • probation
    • strict probation
    • continued probation
    • continued strict probation
    • in dropped status
  • First-semester freshmen and transfer students without an established UW-Madison GPA are eligible to take a course on a pass/fail basis.  
  • The summer sessions collectively count as a single term.  Thus, a student can only take one course for pass/fail during the entire summer term.
Students who wish to take a course on a pass/fail basis will need to sign up for the pass/fail option through the Student Center module in My UW.  Additional enrollment information is located at course enrollment.

The pass/fail option is the student's choice and the instructor reports the grade without knowing whether or not the student is taking the course on a pass/fail basis.  
  • Students must submit pass/fail requests via their Student Center by the end of the fourth (4th) week of the fall and spring terms.  (For modular and summer terms/sessions, pass/fail request must be submitted by the Friday of the week in which the session is one-fourth completed.)  For information about deadlines, please refer to dates and deadlines.
  • Students may not cancel or add the pass/fail option after the deadline for submitting Pass/Fail Option Forms.  Detailed information can be found at student center - course change request.
  • Students can take coursework in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis.   However, any coursework taken in the major or major department on a pass/fail basis will not count toward fulfilling any major requirements.   Student should only take coursework in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis after they have fulfilled their major requirements.
    • Students should consult with the major advisor before declaring pass/fail in the major or major department.
    • Students should be very careful about taking courses in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis since a student cannot cancel this option after the official pass/fail declaration deadline if a student needs the course to fulfill a major requirement.
  • Students cannot take any coursework to fulfill L&S breadth or University General Education Requirements on a pass/fail basis.
  • Only elective work may be carried on a pass/fail basis.  Thus, pass/fail cannot be declared or used to fulfill the following requirements:
    • Breadth (humanities, literature, social science natural science)
    • Foreign language (prior to fulfilling the BA or BS foreign language requirement)
    • Mathematics (coursework required to satisfy the BS mathematics requirement or needed to enroll in required math courses)
    • Ethnic Studies
    • General Education Requirements (Comm A, Comm B, QR A, QR B)
    • Coursework required for a student's major
    • Coursework required for a student's certificate
  • Directed Study courses may not be taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Students pursuing certificate programs should check with the certificate advisor(s) about policies concerning pass/fail for certificate program courses since many certificate programs do not allow coursework to be taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Students cannot take any prerequisite coursework required for a major or a degree program on a pass/fail basis.
  • For more information about the pass/fail process, refer to Pass/Fail in the Undergraduate Catalog.
If a student takes a course for pass/fail, the grade of "S" (satisfactory) will be recorded by the Office of the Registrar in place of the instructor's reported grades of A, AB, B, BC, or C.   The grade of "U" (unsatisfactory) will be recorded in place of the instructor's reported grades of "D" or "F" and no credit will be granted.

 

Final grades for courses taken on a pass/fail basis will be indicated as satisfactory (S) or unsatisfactory (U) without any computation of grade points for the courses into the semester or cumulative grade point average (GPA). In other words, earning a grade of "S" or "U" will not have any impact on a student's GPA for the semester or on the cumulative GPA earned at UW-Madison. Before declaring the pass/fail option, it is extremely important that students carefully read will pass/fail courses count toward any of my degree requirements.

 

For more information, see Course Change Request.  Additional information on pass/fail can be found in the Guide under Courses and Enrollment.

Currently each undergraduate school or college has a pass/fail policy. These policies are very similar, but they have slight differences in areas such as limiting the amount of time students can elect pass/fail based on credits versus courses or stating that a student must be in good academic standing versus citing a GPA. These differences often cause confusion among students who may be aware of a policy that actually pertains to students in a school/college other than their own; students may experience problems when they make decisions that are based on the wrong policy. Although there are minor differences among the schools/colleges the various policies all have very similar requirements and similar intended outcomes. Creating a policy that applies to all undergraduates regardless of school or college is in the best interest of students.

Student Eligibility

Students must be in good academic standing in order to declare the pass/fail option.  In the College of Letters & Science, good academic standing means a student is not on:

  • probation
  • strict probation
  • continued probation
  • continued strict probation
  • (in) dropped status

Detailed information regarding the UW-Madison pass/fail policy can be found at policy on the use of pass/fail grading option for undergraduates.

More detailed information can be found at what does it mean to take a course pass/fail.

Pass/Fail courses count towards three (3) L&S degree requirements:

  • 120 total degree credits needed for graduation,
  • 60 credits of intermediate or advanced work (if the course is designated as I, A, or D level),
  • Residence requirement (if the course is taken within the last 30 credits before graduation).
    • L&S undergraduate students may carry only one (1) pass/fail course per term including the summer session.  Students can take a maximum of sixteen (16) credits for pass/fail during their undergraduate career at UW-Madison.

Pass/Fail cannot be declared or used to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Major or major department coursework (if the course is being used to fulfill a requirement in the major)
  • Breadth (humanities, literature, social science, natural science)
  • Foreign language (if a student has not fulfilled the BA or BS foreign language requirement)
  • Mathematics (if being used to fulfill any degree requirements or prerequisites for any major/degree requirements)
  • General Education Requirements (Communication Part A, Communication Part B, Quantitative Reasoning Part A, Quantitative Reasoning Part B, Ethnic Studies)
  • Coursework required to fulfill certificate programs
  • Directed Study courses (e.g., 199, 299, 699)
  • A student may take a maximum of sixteen (16) credits during his/her undergraduate career at UW-Madison

School or College Responsibilities

Students are affiliated with a school or college based on their intended degree program. Students are subject to that school/college's specific implementation of the policy with regard to the definition of good academic standing and what is considered an elective course.

Each school or college is responsible for clearly communicating to its students what the definition of "good academic standing" is and what a free elective is for their students.

In each school or college, the office responsible for academic policy exceptions is authorized to make exceptions to the pass/fail policy.

Resources for Questions:

L&S Academic Advising Services: (608) 262-5858, advisingaas@ls.wisc.edu

L&S Student Academic Affairs: (608) 262-0617, lsdeans@saa.ls.wisc.edu