Grades and Your GPA

It’s easy to let grades slip that first semester. There are so many events going on and so much partying to do. And let’s not forget how difficult some of your classes will be. Do your best to keep up your grades. Bad grades in your first year will bring down your total grade point average. You’ll probably be a better student in your junior and senior year when you’re working on your major, and you’ll be pretty mad at yourself if the only thing killing your GPA is a bad grade or two from your first year.

Dropping Classes

Unlike high school, you can drop college classes and either pick up new ones or take fewer than you intended. Each semester has a “no penalty” drop/add date close to the beginning of the semester. Be sure to drop and add classes before that date if you want a full refund or if you want to swap classes. There will be other drop dates, but those come with financial penalties. As the semester goes on, you’ll be charged more for dropping a class. For example, three weeks into the semester, the school may only refund 75 percent of the class fee; four weeks into the semester, you might only get 50 percent back. Some colleges require the professor to sign a drop form.

There are several reasons why you might end up changing your schedule midsemester. Keep in mind that dropping a class is serious business. If you have to drop a class because you’re spending too much time rushing a frat or sorority, no one is going to feel sorry for you if your transcript has a big scarlet D for drop on it. Here are several reasons you may want to drop a course:

  • You’re doing poorly in the class and want to save your GPA.
  • You have financial concerns and want to take on a job/more hours at work.
  • You received poor advising and shouldn’t have taken the class in the first place.
  • You’re dealing with serious personal issues.
  • You switch majors, forcing you to change classes or dump an unnecessary workload.
  • Your professor’s expectations have become unreasonable.
  • You prefer a smaller or larger class.
  • You burn out from having taken on too many classes and other responsibilities.
  • You take a leave of absence from school.
  • You are partying overtime: too much fun, not enough studying.

One way to avoid killing your GPA is to drop a class you’re doing terribly in, even if that means losing the money you spent on it. There’s a deadline to do this as well, and once the drop deadline has passed, you’re stuck with the grade. Your transcript will show every drop/add, and you don’t want a future graduate school or employer to see too much of that. Some colleges have a “repeat” option that you can use a certain number of times in case you fail a class. You can retake the class and replace the failing grade with a passing one. The failing class will still show up on your transcript, but the F will not factor into your overall GPA.


If you’re doing poorly in a class or have to quit a class because of some other factor out of your control (like illness or work), you can take an incomplete. You won’t get a grade for the class, nor will your transcript reflect a dropped class. Your transcript will show a place holder (like an I) instead of a grade. You have to make arrangements with a professor to make up the work or tests in the class, usually by the next term. You’ll fill out an “incomplete form” and have your professor sign it before the semester ends.

Whether or not you can take an incomplete is totally up to your professor. Generally, explaining that you’ve been ill or have taken on too much that term is good enough for most profs. Check out your school’s policy at the registrar’s office. If you stop going to class, your professor will not withdraw you automatically. Instead, you will get a failing grade. In some cases, a professor is allowed to give a “no grade” place holder if you don’t show up for something important, like the final exam. This placeholder will turn into an F if you don’t contact the professor and remedy the situation.

Reasons for taking an incomplete:

  • You get sick at the end of the semester.
  • You have a family emergency.
  • You have too many work obligations.
  • You’re in a theater production during finals week.
  • You’re playing in the “big game” the same day as the final.
  • You haven’t finished your coursework.
  • You can’t drop the class because you need it for your major.
  • You have two finals scheduled for the same day.
  • You need the semester break to study up for the final.
  • You have a research project that needs extra attention.
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