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I am asking the following question for a friend, who is currently a Doctoral student in Business School (Marketing area). He told me he would leave his program by the end of this semester (after discussing with his Chair) as there is no clear research fit between what he wants to do and the faculties in his department. Apparently, he shared with me last week that he is likely to receive a 'Failed' grade in his Doctoral Seminar in certain Marketing topics (P/F grading scheme, 1 credit). As he is planning to apply for several Master programs in Computer Science area (he has undergraduate degree in C.S. and Math), he is pretty anxious about whether the potential "F" grade on the transcript would negatively impact his application for those Master in C.S. programs. I told him my guess is that it does not matter much, since Marketing's Doctoral Seminar is not related to Computer Science at all, but he told me to post on this forum to ask if he needs to take further action to avoid getting a "F" but a "W" (it means he has to replace all in progress courses with "W" in this semester). Any thoughts would be appreciated.

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    What is the action here? He is going to fail even if it's a bad look, right? Are you asking if he should even bother applying for the master's in CS? Dec 4, 2021 at 4:24
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    Yeah, he is wondering if it is worth the effort for him to take serious actions to get a "W" on the transcript, rather than a "F"? He also wonders if the Master program in C.S. cares at all about the Doctoral Seminar in Marketing. He has a pretty perfect record otherwise, from what he told me.
    – ghjk
    Dec 4, 2021 at 4:57

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Yes, there is a chance that a single F grade would have an impact, but if the rest of the application is positive then it might be survived. A bunch of F's would be much harder as there can be clerical decisions made to weed out some applications to a popular program, implying that, in some cases, the applicant doesn't even get in the front door.

However, if the F grade is caused purely because of withdrawal then it can be explained, provided that you get a chance to explain it. But there is a lot to explain and not a lot of opportunities to do so. Some will wonder why the candidate is going from a doctoral program to a masters, perhaps.

These kinds of things can be explained in a "Personal Statement", but are less useful in the "Statement of Purpose" which should be used to discuss future plans not past issues. If an admissions process includes personal interviews then such things can be discussed there. Whether the explanations are accepted or not is up to the people receiving them.

My advice would be to try to get W grades instead of F grades, but if that is impossible then still apply to a few places and see what feedback you get.

You don't say where this is occurring, but in the US, at least, no single thing (such as the grade in a 1 credit course) is likely to be determinative. A broad, overall, view is normally preferred. So, there may be room for hope even in the worst case.

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  • @Dr. Buffy: Thank you very much for your detailed answer. I shared it with my friend, and he said the reason he does not want to go and fight for a "W" grade is because it would make all the in-progress courses become "W" at his U.S.-based university. He also shared with me that since he's a full-time student and the other two courses consist of 8 credits which he is pretty certain to obtain both "A," he is thinking whether it is wise to have all 3 "W" that would appear on transcripts (because the course-drop deadline already passed at his place). What would your advice be in this case?
    – ghjk
    Dec 4, 2021 at 20:42
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    The only real advice is that things will possibly need explaining. Leaving the program may be enough of an explanation in any case, but I'm not the one making the judgments.
    – Buffy
    Dec 4, 2021 at 20:46

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