I am a third year math major at a top 30 US university. I fear that I may have destroyed my chances for graduate school (or perhaps I am being dramatic). I would really appreciate if someone could give me some unbiased advice and perspective.

It is likely that I am going to fail a lower division class (Multivariable calculus). I have As in my real analysis courses so far, but I struggle with calculation focused math classes geared towards Engineering majors.

I have a 3.9 GPA in upper division proof based courses (I've taken six so far), TA & tutor experience, and an REU this summer. I am so thrilled by mathematics (especially algebra), and I cannot wait to get involved in research - and yet what will graduate admissions committees think when they see my checkered transcript? Am I doomed?


2 Answers 2


In the US, grad admissions is broad based. It is unlikely that any single thing is determinative. Letters of recommendation are especially important. No, I don't think you are doomed, but a failure isn't helping.

The rest of the things you mention ae all very positive. You might get a question about a failure, of course.

It is also possible that you have more insight in some fields of math than others. That is to be expected. Have a chat with your advisor or another trusted faculty member about your options.

Caveat: There are a few things that, alone, will keep you out of grad school. Academic dishonesty might do the trick, or being accused/convicted of serious crimes. I add this only for completeness, as there is no indication of it here.


Yes, you're being dramatic

Admission to a graduate program does not require perfection in all past activities; it requires that a student has worked themselves up to a point where they can show solid evidence of being at or above the required level of skills/mastery for admission. If you fail a course that is bad, but you can retake it and do better next time. You can still get through your courses over time and show the requisite level of knowledge/skills/mastery to be a good candidate for a graduate program.

As I've noted in a similar question (in answer to another student being similary dramatic) there is at least one example of a person who led a militant group that conducted bombings of public buildings in the US, and then he later became a university professor in the US. So if he can do that and still become a professor, you can certainly fail multivariate calculus and still get into grad school.

  • 1
    Don't you think that story may have a fair bit of survivorship bias to it? The existence of one professor who formerly bombed buildings says very little about the effect of bombing buildings on graduate school acceptance rates, and says even less about the effect of failing calculus.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 27, 2022 at 16:54
  • The example is there to highlight the fact that failing calculus is a very minor issue n the scheme of things, and something that is possible to recover from academically.
    – Ben
    May 27, 2022 at 23:52

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