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Dear SLN: Will One Bad Grade Ruin My Academic Future?

Written by Julianna Garofalo
bad grade academic future

“Will one bad grade jeopardize my academic future?” The short answer? Probably not.

Dear SLN is an advice column for students who are looking for no bullshit answers to tough questions.

This week’s question comes from Samantha on Facebook.

“Will getting a bad grade in an elective course jeopardize my chances of getting into a good post-grad program?”

Julianna Garofalo is an SLN marketing intern and fourth year Ryerson journalism student. She replies:

Hey Samantha,

Getting a bad grade can feel like the end of the world, but it most likely won’t be detrimental to your academic success.

The typical student takes approximately 40 classes to complete their undergraduate degree. One D- averaged with 39 A’s and B’s shouldn’t lower your standing much. It’s all super circumstantial, though.

Unlike undergraduate programs that look at only your top 6 high school marks, grad schools usually consider (among other non-academic requirements) the cumulative grade point average of your last two years of study. That means, when it comes to being evaluated by post-grad programs, everything counts — even your electives — if taken in some of your final semesters.

The first step to assessing the damage, according to Ryerson University Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment Communications Ambassador Taylor Stone, is figuring out where the poor mark has put your GPA in comparison to the requirements of your desired masters program. “If you need a 3.0 to get in and now have a 2.0, you could be in trouble because your other grades might’ve been barely high enough to qualify in the first place. Now, if you have a 2.99, that’s still promising and there are several ways to redeem yourself in the eyes of those deciding whether to accept or reject your application.”

If it turns out this one bad grade is hurting you as a prospective grad student, here are some ways to compensate:

1. Ace your non-academic requirements.

“Grades are not everything in most graduate programs,” clarifies Stone. In addition to meeting academic requirements, grad schools also evaluate you on things like personal essays, portfolios, letters of reference, research ambitions and interviews. A strong body of work and glowing endorsements can totally make up for what’s lacking in your scholarly rank! If you’ve made a good impression on your professors and can put together a kick-ass portfolio, you still stand a fighting chance.

2. Justify the bad grade in your application.

If a statement of interest is requested as part of the application, you can address the bad grade directly. Do you attribute the poor mark to an overload of extracurriculars that semester? Were you busy starting your own business, perhaps? Explain yourself. “Admissions committees are made up of humans who understand that life interferes with school sometimes,” reasons Stone. For more guidance on the best way to appeal to your desired program, seek advice from any of the grad school’s admissions officers and/or attend an open house.

3. Retake the course.

If all else fails, you can retake the class or replace it with a different course satisfying the same credit. “Though many schools will record all attempts on your transcript,” says Stone. “A high mark won’t be overlooked just because it was achieved on your second try.”

Research your undergraduate school’s protocol around GPA adjustments and fill out a course replacement and/or exclusion form. You must submit these requests for approval and processing within a certain timeframe. Be sure to consult your institution’s significant dates calendar and keep an eye on deadlines.

All in all, it’s going to be okay. Bad grades are major bummers, but nothing a student can’t bounce back from. You may not cruise your way through the acceptance process, but shouldn’t let one mistake crush your academic dreams.

READ MORE: The 5 Best Ways to Improve Your Grades.

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.