I'm planning to apply to competitive PhD programs in theoretical physics. Unfortunately, I received a C+ grade in one relevant graduate-level course. I really don't know how I got this grade, because I think I did well in the final examination. The final exam was worth 100 % of the total grade. Now, I received 5 A's, two B+, and two B's in the 10 graduate courses that I took. Unfortunately, my undergraduate degree is unrelated to the field I intend to do a PhD in. I didn't even attend undergraduate courses in calculus. I taught myself math and physics from calculus up to algebraic topology and Quantum field theory. I have also scored high in the subject GRE test.

I would like to know if these grades would have negative impact on my PhD applications. Should I attempt to do anything about this C+ grade?

  • Can you add your country and the meaning of the grades in your countey?
    – Hatschu
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 15:49
  • Do you have a master's degree? In the US, it is very unusual for undergrad students to have completed ten graduate courses -- seems like you've likely already finished the coursework requirement for your PhD....
    – cag51
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 16:35
  • Did you unknowingly forget to answer some questions in the final examination (e.g. the questions were printed on two sides of the paper and you only answered questions on the first side)? If so, that could explain the C+.
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 20:24
  • I lost 14 points out of 50 in the second semester examination. This was not because I did not know the answer to one of the questions. In fact, I think the professor was not fair in his marking because the questions did not really require any thinking. It is basically repeating the derivations in the textbook for the course, which I did.
    – csguy
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 8:30
  • In the first semester, I lost 19 points. In that test, however, I didn't have time to finish writing answers to all the questions in the test even if I knew how to answer them. This is stupid as well. The exam was too long really for 3 hours. I think this is sensitive to how fast I can write or something stupid like that.
    – csguy
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 8:33

2 Answers 2


One bad mark is unlikely to have much if any effect. Especially if it isn't the most recent. People are looking for indicators of success, so you have to provide plenty of that in your admissions package. Someone may ask you why you got a poor grade, but most will accept a reasonable answer. But your record is what it is and you can't change the past. Apply to the programs that interest you and make your best case.


Clearly, if they were A+'s, it would be much better, but it is still better than not having taken that course; even if we think the worst that you didn't get the material from that course, you are at least familiar to that material compared to a student who haven't taken it.

Plus, you have the chance to explain that "bad grade" in the statement of purpose if there was some exceptional situations, or you can argue as

since I had a lack of the material from that course, I did this, this and this to compensate those missing pieces later etc.

of course, if you do such thing; this might even be better who knows!.

  • what is the reason for the down vote?
    – Our
    Commented Apr 14, 2019 at 12:07

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .