I plan on doing a PhD in computational linguistics, which I intend to start in about 3 years. I have one more year of undergraduate study, and 5/6 of the courses remaining are for my minor in Applied Linguistics.

I plan on taking 2/6 of those classes as credit/no-credit (CR/NC) because I'm also working two jobs, and worst-case scenario I'll fall behind in these classes, but not so far behind that I wouldn't pass with 75% (and still receive credit).

aeismail says in one of her answers that:

Admissions committees do not place as much weight on courses outside the major as courses in the major. If you are a physics major, for instance, a C in a US History course is not going to be as problematic as a C in electricity and magnetism.

These CR/NC courses are not in my majors (Computer Science and French), so I don't think that they would raise flags to admissions committees, but I also don't want admissions to think "oh he seriously slacked off his last year of undergrad!"

Do admissions committees care about CR/NC courses in undergrad?

  • 2
    I think the quoted answer would be better if it said "If you are applying for a PhD in Physics". Regardless of your major, your performance in Applied Linguistics classes is very relevant for a PhD in computational linguistics.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


I wanted to expand on the point made by @StrongBad in the comments. Even if the courses in question are not offered through the Linguistics department, any grade in a course that is closely related to the proposed graduate program will be weighted much more heavily than a random course taken for general-education or general-interest purposes.

For example, when I was on a graduate admissions committee in physics (during my grad student days), we did look at the student's performance in mathematics classes. These courses didn't carry as much weight as their performance in physics classes, but a C- in multi-variable calculus or linear algebra would be troubling. Seeing a "pass" indication in such a class would make me wonder what happened there, and would make me concerned that the student didn't really get everything out of the class that they would need for graduate studies. Even if these classes weren't required for the student's major (an applicant who had majored in chemistry, say), it would still give me pause. In effect, it's better than nothing, but not much better than that.

If I'm reading your post correctly, you're proposing to take Computer Science classes pass/fail and then apply to a program in computational linguistics. I'm not a computational linguist, but this seems like a bad idea to me. On the other hand, you might be able to get away with taking a French class pass/fail, since the skills you would be learning in that class are not as directly related to computational linguistics. (At least, they wouldn't be if your classes are anything like my college French classes were.) And if the classes are completely unrelated (a class in History or Economics, say), then it's probably fine to take those pass/fail.

On a related note: if you do decide to take these courses pass/fail, you should be absolutely sure that you can still complete the proposed minor. Many institutions (for example, mine) do not allow you to count pass/fail courses towards an academic major or minor. Check with the department in question about this, if you haven't already.

  • Thank you for your elaboration Michael. I would be taking the Applied Linguistics courses as pass/fail, not the Computer Science courses. In fact, I complete the French and Computer Science majors this semester. I was curious how application committees would view a couple CR/NC courses in the minor; I should have elaborated that the two courses I would take have nothing to do with my area of study (the courses are in sociolinguistics and English as a second language). There is also no violation of university CR/NC policy here either. Would any of that alter the info in your answer? Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 21:37
  • My general advice is still basically the same. The deciding question about whether to take the courses CR/NC shouldn't be "are they in my minor?", it should be "how relevant are they to my proposed graduate program?" If the courses are completely unrelated, you can get away with it; but the closer they are to your proposed graduate program, the worse of an idea it is. I'm not a linguist, so I'm not sure what the answer would be for the specific courses you mention; you should really ask a professor in your department for field-specific advice. Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 13:09
  • Alright, I understand :) I will ask the linguistics professors that I know just to be sure, but by the course descriptions they have zero relevance. Thank you for your very helpful advice! Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 16:07

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