Credit / No Credit: What Does It Mean, and Why Choose This Option?

By Logan Bright Modified on October 03, 2023
Tags : Academics

Some courses may give you the choice to take "credit / no credit" (or "pass / fail") instead of a grade point score. Check out why you might want to choose CR/NCR!

Credit / No Credit: What Does It Mean, and Why Choose One Over the Other?

As you work through your courses in university or college, you may get an option called "credit / no credit," sometimes abbreviated to CR/NCR. You may see this as part of your academic calendar: the dates to choose the CR/NCR option for a given course.

But what is credit / no credit, and why might you want to choose this option? Read on to find out how and why you can use CR/NCR to boost your overall academic average.

What is credit / no credit (CR/NCR)?

Instead of getting an overall average for your performance in a given course — for example, finishing Math 101 with a 60% — you may be able to choose the CR/NCR option for Math 101.

This means that your transcript will show that you earned the credit for the course, passing it — but it won't show the 60% grade. Instead, the transcript shows the credit that you earned.

By contrast, if you received a 30% overall in Math 101, thus failing the course, your transcript would show "no credit" — without showing the 30% grade itself.

Confused yet? Taking the CR/NCR option lets you effectively "erase" a score from your transcript, replacing it with a binary yes or no. Think of "credit / no credit" as "passed the course / didn't pass the course." You may even see this system referred to as a "pass / fail" option.

Why choose credit / no credit?

The most common reason to choose the CR/NCR option, instead of a regular letter grade, is because you think you'll get a bad grade.

In isolation, this might not be a big deal — after all, you still have to pass your courses, even if your grades are poor — but some students are concerned about the impact of a single course on their overall average.

Let's look at a couple hypothetical examples to illustrate this point:

Example Grades in five courses Hypothetical overall result
#1 90, 91, 85, 87, 90 (90+91+85+87+90)/5 = 87% average
#2 60, 91, 85, 87, 90 (60+91+85+87+90)/5 = 83% average
#3 CR (credit), 91, 85, 87, 90 (91+85+87+90)/4 = 88% average
#4 NCR (no credit), 91, 85, 87, 90 (91+85+87+90)/4 = 88% average

In the above examples, you can see why choosing CR/NCR can be so powerful in some cases! Example #2 includes a less-than-stellar 60 alongside other good grades. When the average of all 5 courses is taken, the 60 drags it down to roughly 83% overall.

If instead you chose the CR/NCR option for that course, it wouldn't be counted in your overall average: whether you passed (CR) or failed (NCR), your overall average is the same at roughly 88%. This is still about one point higher than if you'd scored a 90% in this course, per example #1!

Another benefit comes to students who are exploring new subjects: you have more freedom to try something you might not like if you don't need to worry about the impact on your overall grades. Go ahead and take that elective in contemporary poetry, or introductory astrophysics!

So, if you're taking a course that you think you might struggle to get a good grade in, you may want to opt for the CR/NCR option when given the opportunity.

How many credit / no credits can I take?

Your school may put a limit on credit / no credit choices. In many cases, you may be restricted to choosing only one course per semester (or per year!) that can go CR/NCR. Beyond that, you'll have to learn to live with the grades you receive!

When can I choose credit / no credit?

Schools that offer a credit / no credit option make clear on their academic calendars when CR/NCR is available. In most cases, it starts a few weeks into a new semester, and ends before exam periods. So, you should have a decent window of time to decide if you want to take the grade or just the credit.

Some courses may not be eligible for a CR/NCR option at your school. It's more common with electives — that is, courses you choose to take — compared to mandatory classes required for your degree. Check with your department or faculty for specifics on which courses are eligible for CR/NCR.

What are the downsides to choosing credit / no credit?

You won't be penalized by your college or university for choosing CR/NCR. In fact, this option became a lot more popular during the pandemic era, as school schedules were upended. Things are settling back to normal now.

There may be some potential downsides, though, so keep these in mind before you decide:

  • if a potential employer wants to see your transcript, they'll see your CR/NCR choices (and may wonder why you chose it)
  • scholarship opportunities, or other methods of recognition, that depend on a particular score in a particular course, may be closed to you
  • getting feedback in the form of a letter or number grade can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses: choosing CR/NCR reduces this feedback
  • considering graduate studies in a profession like Law or Medicine? Some schools will not consider a transcript that has a CR/NCR on it

Most of ehese are low-stakes consequences, so if you can live with them, you may get some value out of choosing CR/NCR for your next challenging course! If you're thinking ahead to graduate school, especially in a professional program, be careful.

If you're considering choosing CR/NCR on a course you're taking, the first step is always to speak with your academic advisor or counsellor! Book a meeting with a student success rep at your school, and lay out what you're thinking. The office can help you decide on the right step, and get more info from faculties and departments as necessary.

It's always better to get a second opinion on something like this. After all, that's what the student success staff are for! Set up a meeting and share your thoughts. You may be able to benefit by choosing a CR/NCR course or two during your degree. Good luck!

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