The current grading system of my university allows graduate students to either receive a letter grade (A through F) or receive a Pass/Fail grade (where A-C is Pass) in any course offered. Each student must indicate his/her grading preference for each course within the first 2 weeks of the term. Most departments have a strict requirement that all "required" courses must be taken for a letter grade; however, elective courses can either be taken for a letter grade or Pass/Fail. Many of these elective courses are advanced versions of "required" courses, or they might be intermediate to advanced courses in other departments that are still related to one's research area.

When it comes time to apply for postdoc or junior faculty positions, could choosing to take elective courses Pass/Fail negatively impact hiring or funding decisions? For example, suppose a postdoc advertisement states that the position requires knowledge of a technique or area covered in an elective course. Would the fact that an applicant received a "Pass" in the course be considered the same as if the grade was instead an A or B? Alternatively, is it better to risk getting a B (or C) in a hard elective course instead of "playing it safe" by electing to Pass/Fail the course (where A, B, and C all get the same grade)? Are there any situations where the choice between letter grade vs. Pass/Fail can impact anything negatively or positively?

I've often heard that grades don't matter as much in graduate school compared to things like research output and networking, which may make this question a bit irrelevant. Still, I would be curious what others think.

1 Answer 1


Unless you're applying for a post-doctoral position at a corporation or somewhere else where HR personnel will be screening your materials before forwarding them to the person doing the hiring (where GPA might be scrutinized), I don't think it frankly makes much difference. Your work as a researcher matters much more than your performance in an elective course taken in graduate school that may have little to do with your proposed research area for the postdoc.

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