A course came up that I was interested in (C*algebras). It's a grad class but was offered to a select group of undergrads including myself. I accepted the offer but then once the class started I received an email saying the following:

"Dear XXX,

I have just noticed that you have not completed Math 311. I think it would be a terrible idea for you to be doing the operator algebra course before completing that. It would also be irresponsible of me to let you do it. This isn't really dependent on why you didn't complete the course. The appearance alone would make me look bad.

Best, XXX"

I replied that I have 100% on all but one assignment and an A+ on the midterm. I haven't yet taken the final but it will be scheduled by the end of the semester. (I couldn't take the exam for health reasons that he knows of.)

He knows I am an A+ student and has given me 2 A+'s in the 2 classes I have taken with him. I tried speaking with the instructor of the Math 311 course and asked him to speak with said prof to see if he could convince him that I know the material but I'm not sure how that will go.

I don't know why this prof would rescind the invitation when we seemed to have previously had a good rapport. The prof does know that this would be my 6th class for the term which may be a contributing factor. (4th at 4th year or above)

Is there anything else I can do to increase my chance of getting into this class?

Also I don't want to damage my relationship with this prof further as I hoped to ask them to do a summer research project.

  • 7
    It seems to me that the reason is pretty clear in the mail you got. On paper it will not look good that the professor allowed you to take a course which you were not (on paper) qualified for, and therefore the professor has decided to protect his own reputation in the department. Sep 19, 2018 at 8:13
  • Was the option to take the course offered to you by verbal or written invitation? Have you taken your case to the Department Chair? Sep 19, 2018 at 12:40
  • 1
    @TobiasKildetoft Reading the case and following your conjecture, the question we should ask is, was the approach unethical. The instructor granted an option to take the course, and then took it away. The rejection letter is full of conjecture and self-remorse ("I think ..." "It would not be ..." "... make me look bad"). It has little to no objectivity. When the case has truly followed the path as presented, I fear the instructor has let pride or arrogance or self-doubt get in the way of being true to original offer. If so, I would hold, the instructor deserves a rebuke. Sep 19, 2018 at 12:53
  • @Faust How many classes are typical for a term? Sep 19, 2018 at 17:20
  • For a math student typically 3 on rare occasions 4.
    – Faust
    Sep 19, 2018 at 17:51

2 Answers 2


Look, the thing with these kinds of questions is that process varies significantly from institution to institution based on their regulations, bylaws, etc. I actually agree with the instructor's decision, even though the email is unprofessional. It is usually not allowed for a student to take a course in which they have not yet completed the prerequisite for that course.

Having said this, there may be a solution. In many institutions, exceptions like these are handled by a specific entity such as the Faculty Council, the Department Council, the Vice-Dean for Undergraduate Studies, the Vice-Dean for Graduate Studies, the Faculty Dean, etc. Since I don't know your institution, I can't begin to say which one of these would be the proper route to take, but typically a request or a petition could be sent to the responsible body, and they would then study it and make a decision based on your unique circumstances.

My advice in this situation would not be to get upset, nor to talk about how the reason was "incomprehensible" or anything along these lines. I would say you that you should write a letter/email/petition to whomever is responsible in your faculty and ask that an exception can be made based on the circumstances and situation that you pointed out in your question. Talking with the instructor of the Math 311 course probably won't help because technically, the professor of the Grad course is simply following proper university procedures and guidelines. if you are close with the instructor of the Grad course that you want to take and are familiar with him, I would say that you should talk to him in person, and ask him about what the official channels would be for getting this exception and see if he would support you in this.

Don't attack. Don't accuse. Don't get upset. Just try to find out the solution that complies with all relevant bylaws and regulations. That is my humble advice.


Ask him if you can at least audit the grad class, and if he would allow you to hand in any assignments and take any exams and be graded on them, informally and not for credit. And ask him if he will allow you to register back to his class later if and when you successfully complete the Math 311 prerequisite requirements and in that case have the grades you received up to that point be counted as official. (Since this may happen late in the semester, you will want to check with your department/major adviser to make sure this would be allowed. Most institutions have a registration deadline of some sort, and you may need to file a special petition and get it approved to pull off a maneuver of this type.)

This proposal seems so reasonable that I can’t think of a reason why he would refuse. At the very least, it seems to undermine his “irresponsible/makes me look bad” argument. Allowing a student to audit a class does not make anyone look bad or irresponsible, ever.

Good luck!

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