I am in the third year of my undergraduate degree now, and in the process of applying for Graduate schools and Med schools. I have a burning questions about a creepy "C" in my transcript.

To summarize my story: I was recovering from a biopsy operation back then. Though I was advised to take one semester off to rest physically and mentally (I was extremely paranoid waiting for the pathology report, and luckily it came back benign), I still decided to take all the courses and the heavy research that I had started before. I performed so badly that semester that I received a C. That is like the most embarrassing element in my transcript.

Some told me that such a bad grade is a disadvantage for admissions. Do I still have a chance to make it to top grad and med schools? With extra effort (I have managed to pull up my GPA to 3.8 now, I have been on the Dean's list for some semesters, have 3 publications, and 2 poster presentations at symposium, my GRE and MCAT are good too), can I cover that ugly spot?

  • 12
    It sounds like you have done everything you can to cover it, short of bribery. Jun 15 '13 at 5:53
  • 7
    They will probably recognize that you're human anyway.
    – superuser0
    Jun 15 '13 at 7:35
  • I've taken a couple of liberties with the wording here. In particular, I don't know if the poster is in the third year of his undergrad degree or not, but it seems like a reasonable inference. Sep 14 '14 at 15:39
  • 2
    the heck are you talking about? 3.8 is a fantastic GPA for anything. There's even a joke that anything above a 3.9 is a disadvantage because it just questions whether you were taking challenging courses in the first place.
    – user18072
    Oct 13 '14 at 5:50
  • 1
    Haha... It was more than a year ago, when I was in my most desperate mood for grad schools. Now, getting into a top one, and having some opportunities to know what were done behind the scenes, I agree that I should not have lamented about the GPA, or the GRE :). It is because there are much more important factors the admission committee want to look at.
    – Silentio
    Oct 14 '14 at 16:44

You have shown that you have overcome great adversity and still achieved great results - this says a lot of positives about your character - of resilience and perseverance - two attributes that are critical for any graduate studies. You had a cancer scare and still passed the subject despite the medical tests and the very justified anxiety.

Maybe, it is not an "ugly spot", but that C, and subsequent successes are a reminder of how much strength and tenacity you have shown.

  • 3
    Unfortunately it is not always advisable to let a possible future employee know about health problems one had in the past, so while your point is very true I am not sure if this argument can be made in the described PhD application process.
    – superuser0
    Jun 15 '13 at 10:11
  • 5
    @T.F.: For a PhD application, it's better to mention it, as it's strong justification for a temporary drop in performance.
    – aeismail
    Jun 15 '13 at 10:15
  • @aeismail: And to mention means to provide documentation from a doctor? Or just address this issue in the personal statement?
    – superuser0
    Jun 15 '13 at 10:31
  • 1
    It might not be advisable for some private sector positions to mention former health problems, maybe. I've never once seen a situation in grad school admissions where we turned down a student for health reasons. That would be discrimination.
    – wsc
    Jun 15 '13 at 16:04
  • 1
    Hi aeismail, thanks for the tips. But perhaps I will just ask my academic supervisor, who advised me to rest for one semester back then, to give a detailed description of what happened.
    – Silentio
    Jun 16 '13 at 2:40

Your final GPA already shows that you have done well in your study and a bad grade in one of the semester or subject wouldn't matter much. Even if you are concerned about your grade affecting the admission chances, you can include in your Statement of Purpose why you performed badly, what did you learn from that and how did you managed to improvise upon it. Failure is also a learning experience, and if you are applying to a sane school, the admission committee are usually intelligent enough to understand it. Moreover, by describing how you improvised after a bad grade, would reflect your commitment and seriousness.


In your shoes, I would include a letter explaining the biopsy operation, the date of it, and its "correlation" with the "creepy C." This letter should probably come from a professor familiar with the situation, if possible, or maybe a doctor.

You've come a long way since then. You've got several publications/presentations, and a cumulative GPA of 3.8 that includes the C. Most schools would be happy let you in. They'd wonder about the C, but would also be looking for an "excuse" to overlook it.

This is something you don't want to let "pass" but you also don't want to make a "big deal" of it. A letter or two should be just about right

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