I recently completed a 3 year bachelor degree in Computer Science at an Australian university. I graduated with a GPA which is roughly the equivalent of a “C” in the US. I only blame the grades on my poor work ethic and wasting time studying content unrelated to my course. The pathway to a PhD in Australia is to do a 3 year Bachelors degree and then complete an honours year which involves a significant research component.

I emailed the honours coordinator and unsurprisingly, they replied that with my transcript I stand no chance. The only post I found online by someone with similar transcript got the advice that they shouldn’t even be thinking about doing honours and that it is sad enough that people with such low grades get degrees. I have tried to give up my desire to do research (in Machine Learning) because it is naive to think about doing an honours program, let alone harbour any delusions of doing a PhD.

I know at some point I’ll just have to accept the truth. But before I give up I want to fail one more time - only this time I want to give it my 100%. Is there any way to get a “second chance”? No matter what I do I feel that my transcript will forever haunt me. Even if I somehow found an honours program which would accept me (unlikely) and I managed to get straight A’s, my past grades mean that my average GPA would still be very low. My fate is sealed, and a criminal record would be less of a burden. I want to work hard but with a best case scenario so grim I don’t know what to do.

Should I do a second bachelors degree? Try to gain research experience (with problematic marks)? Or just get a library membership and call it a day?

  • 1
    Can you enrol for a Master's degree?
    – user2768
    Apr 5, 2019 at 15:01
  • Yes, but the admission requirements are similar to the honours year. Apr 5, 2019 at 15:14
  • 1
    There are many universities around. Don't let what is officially stated stop you. Just apply. Apr 5, 2019 at 17:57
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    You seem to have an interest for Machine Learning. Have you started studying it, maybe experimenting with it on your own? This could be your way in, if you can prove your motivation (and preferably some experience) for this specific goal. Depending on the specific system of admission, dedication and focus on a specific field might matter more than general grades. As an alternative, you could consider starting working in industry, acquire skills and experience and come back for a PhD a few years later: at this stage your professional profile will matter more than your grades.
    – Erwan
    Apr 5, 2019 at 19:26
  • In general only your Honours GPA "counts" for PhD admissions, though they'll still see the rest of the transcript and it will raise some significant red flags. It's the Honours admission (and performance there) that's more of an issue. Apr 5, 2019 at 21:00

6 Answers 6


Regarding your hypothetical argument about getting accepted to honours and good grades there not mattering: if you did get accepted and get great grades in the so-called honours program, It would almost certainly help you far more than by just averaging up your GPA. Universities will notice the upward trend and some will be willing to believe you have turned things around.

More generally, no matter what you do next, poor grades say two things, both of which you need to overcome:

  1. You have poor study habits, hence you'd probably fail out of grad school by doing more of the same, because a "C" average isn't acceptable in grad school.

  2. You didn't learn as much of the material as you should have, and are now behind everyone else who got better grades. And now you will be in over your head in graduate courses which build on those undergraduate courses.

You can address #1 by showing a pattern of improvement in taking new classes and doing well. For #2 you will need to basically learn the material in a second try. If you had non-existant study habits in school with all the support and pressure on you, I don't have too much hope for self-study. I'd suggest finding a way to retake some key classes.

I'd also note that machine learning may be very different than what you expect coming from a computer science background. It is a heavily mathematical subject, where the programming is the easy part. So you may be gaining some edge by focusing on a topic that is more interesting, but you're also doubling-down on what is likely the hardest component of your studies.

  • 1
    This advice is not helpful since the asker is ineligible for honours. Also, many honours courses have little coursework. It is a research degree. Apr 7, 2019 at 2:35
  • @AnonymousPhysicist That part of my answer was responding to the asker's hypothetical argument which presupposed both of those conditions: getting accepted and taking courses in honours. The rest of my answer was not specific to this scenario anymore. I will edit so others aren't similarly confused. Apr 7, 2019 at 3:58
  • For computer science honours in Australia I believe it is often half or more coursework, however there is often few courses specifically aimed for PhD students (similar for maths and physics). Other science honours courses can often be entirely research (plus attending seminars). Though you'd still need to understand the material Jan 14, 2021 at 11:36

This answer is based on Australian observations.

Most Phd students at a university are selected from honours students within the same department, and sometimes the honours students are accepted with the hope they will prove to be a good Phd candidate.

I have seen one average undergraduate student accepted for honours - but they had a high grade in the one subject that was especially relevant and that they were really interested in.


This begs the question: what were you "wasting time studying content unrelated to my course" on?

If it was your boy/girl friend, well that wont help much.

However was it something you could call academic or even something like playing xbox?

Well then I would look at doing a 'Graduate Diploma' in a different but related field.

(In NZ) a Graduate Diploma consists of (the equivalent points of) one year of final year Undergrad papers (300-400 level)

Personal Story: I graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Medical Imaging), but found the real world work (taking X-rays) unsatisfying. So after a year taking X-rays (where I did get some interesting work stories*) I went back and undertook a G.Dip Sci (Computer Science) at a different University. I have never looked back*.

So if you under took a G.Dip in say Game Development. You could use that opportunity to get better grades and still be able to move back towards Higher level, Machine Learning (As AI is a part of game design) qualification.

For this to work you will need to:

  1. Find a side step G.Dip you are going to find interesting
  2. Apply your self and get good grades
  3. Figure out what your end game is going to be

At the end of the day getting a Degree (etc) is about getting a job (for the most part). Even if that job is teaching at a university.

So once you have Honors or a PhD what are you going to do?

Remember Grades are only important to move from Student life to your first 'proper' job. Then how you apply yourself to work and self improvement (which is not graded) is what is important.

* When you are at a bar and some one asks how was your week, Saying you solved a tricky race condition bug, is way less impressive than 'Oh I had to tape down a dead guy in the morgue at work to day'. Still beats doing the shift work.

  • 2
    Why would playing xbox be impressive?
    – user111388
    Jan 14, 2021 at 8:18
  • @user111388 I didn't say it was impressive. What I mean is find a positive spin on whatever it was you were doing and run with that. So even if it was something, generally considered as a waste of time, like XBox then look into channeling that experience into getting good at game development. Jan 14, 2021 at 22:19
  • I think with that logic, "wasting time on boyfriend/girlfriend" can also be frame positively;)
    – user111388
    Jan 15, 2021 at 13:17

You should get a job in machine learning. You are fortunate that there are many job opportunities in that area right now. Get a few years relevant work experience, and then your ability to succeed in a PhD will seem more credible.

Edit: This won't work in Australia. Australian universities have hard grade/mark cutoffs for graduate study and don't consider your work experience. It will work in other countries that have more sensible policies.


A friend of mine dropped out of college after failing general chemistry twice in a row. He was going through a lot at the time that contributed to his lack of motivation and clear thinking. After his life situation improved, he started fresh with a different major at a different university and did well. If you have the financial means AND you are confident that you would succeed given another chance, then a second Bachelor's degree is a viable option. Be honest with yourself in evaluating the probability of success with this option if your situation has not changed.

You should absolutely try to gain research experience and self-teach machine learning. I successfully applied for financial aid to take a machine learning course on Coursera. The course was useful and enjoyable, and I now display the certificate on my Curriculum Vitae as evidence of my basic knowledge of machine learning. Furthering your education like this has multiple benefits: 1) demonstrates your interest and ability to academic programs and employers, 2) lets you advance your knowledge in a field of interest, and 3) lets you find out if you're actually as interested in the material as you think you are.

In addition, heed @Prof. Santa Claus' advice. There are a lot of programs out there. Apply around and see what sort of feedback you receive. You may be surprised by the extent to which some programs will look past sub-par academics if you can demonstrate your aptitude and interest in other ways (see self-teaching above). Lastly, the options you're considering are not mutually exclusive. The best strategy will likely combine applying around, furthering your knowledge on your own, and considering options outside of academia to get relevant work/research experience. Hope this helps.

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    "He does not include his earlier attempt at a degree on any application materials" - in the US this would not be an option without committing fraud (and grounds for expulsion from the program if discovered later), as pretty much every program requires transcripts from all previously attended institutions. Is this not the case in Australia?
    – BrianH
    Apr 5, 2019 at 20:38
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    He is from the US, but went into the private sector - not academia. So probably not fraud in the case of my friend, but your point is well-taken with regards to the OP. I had not considered that it could be construed as fraud. I do not know the legality in Australia, so I'll remove the passage in case. Thanks. Apr 5, 2019 at 20:53

Research is not about getting good grades, and grades are not necessarily strongly correlated with research skills. Don't be put off by your abysmal grades - really nobody cares about them later!

I'm not familiar of how this works in Australia. In Europe I would try to:

a) volunteer for a small research project with a friendly group leader. Knock doors and asks nicely. If you offer free (and hard) work, there is always stuff to do. Don't try to hide your grades. Whatever content unrelated to course work you studied, maybe it's useful for getting a project, too.

b) Try to identify the topic that is most crucial for what you want to do/are doing right now (i.e. the research project). It might be programming or some aspect of theory - pick something manageable. Study it such way that you know how to apply it (particularly in research), before picking the next topic. That's a long-term strategy for acquiring new and relevant skills.

Of course, for above strategies you need a bit of time, as you won't earn money directly.

Don't be put off. You're having a bit a bumpy start now, but in the long run enthusiasm, genuine interest, focus, and creativity matter more.

So no, don't get a second bachelors degree. Yes, try to gain research experience (with problematic marks)!

  • In Australia, unfortunately, grade cutoffs are hard cutoffs and there is no getting around them. "Nobody cares" will not get you into honors or PhD if you have low grades. Jan 14, 2021 at 9:28

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