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I had a "bad grade" in a class in my 4th year of undergraduate studies.

The problem is that this class is crucial for the graduate program I intend to pursue. I got a 91%, which I know is a really good grade, but I hoped to get more since I want to do a Master's in Photonics or Electromagnetics. I think that the reason why I got this grade is that one family member passed away a week before my exam and I didn't have the energy or the will to study at that moment.

Do you think that this grade can influence my graduate admission chances?

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    Damn bro you are making the rest of us look bad. A single (what you would consider to be) bad grade is surely seen as an exception that proves the rule.
    – user153715
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:10
  • I have gotten grades lower than that, in the 80s or 70s, but I have performed really well in others, so that's why my GPA is strong. But this course is different, it's arguably the most important one for the concentration I want to follow. I know it's by far not a disaster, but I still worry about it, give the relevance for the graduate program. It wouldn't be the same if I got a 91% in Programming or Microprocessors.
    – Tony2015
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:35
  • Also keep in mind that the 91% I got in my university may be way lower somewhere else. The level of my university is good (compared to some universities in Canada for example), but if you do all the problems and study the proofs made in class, you shouldn't be getting less than 75-80% unless of course you had a bad day or something.
    – Tony2015
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:37
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    I had a poor undergrad GPA (less than 3) which is usually terrible to get into a good program. But I also had almost 3 years of decent research experiences backed up by good recommendation letters and a perfect quant GRE score. I got into multiple MS and PhD programs in photonics at decent (not top 20) universities in the US and the UK. I would be very surprised if your grades (even a 91% in this course) would affect your chances significantly. Other components on your application will play a role and especially for a master's degree, you should be fine.
    – Paddy
    May 1, 2023 at 4:53
  • Check out Jeff Erickson's home page and his comments on GPA...
    – vonbrand
    May 1, 2023 at 16:17

2 Answers 2

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You write on a comment that you made your undergrad studies in a different country to the one you want to pursue graduate studies. I am also doing my undergrad in Latin America and I have a few friends here that also applied to graduate schools in the US. From their experiences, I can tell you that when an international student applies to grad school, the members of the committee pay attention if you have a bad academic record (like dropped classes or a GPA below 3.0), but good grades are not as important as you think. It's really hard to assess the knowledge and capabilities of a student based on grades given by professors from another country (let alone from another culture!).

I have a great GPA on my home country, but I cannot compare it with the GPA of a Cambridge student. There's not point of comparison, since the things I needed to achieve in order to maintain that GPA are, in some cases, easier than the ones the Cambridge student needed to complete in order to have that same GPA. I am fully aware of that, and it really sucks, because even if I studied hard and I know how to apply the knowledge I struggled to get, my degree is not as valuable as a Harvard degree, or an MIT degree. I can tell you that I had quite demanding and challenging courses, and I'm proud of the grades I got, but I also had a few courses that were pure garbage:) and everybody gets good grades on them! I cannot show how "good" I am just with my grades, since the ruler my professors used to "measure me" is not the same ruler used to measure the other international students (or local students).

If you don't come from a renowned Latin America college (for example, IMPA or UNAM), you will have a hard time finding your way to a good graduate program in the US or the UE. You will improve your chances if you can find a way to engage in undergraduate research programs, or if you have good performance in academic activities. You can also try to find scholarships addressed specifically for Latino students. I cannot give you more advice because I don't know if you want to apply for research programs or more practical programs.

I don't say those things to bring you down, but in real life the sweat and tears we shed during our undergrad journey are not as valuable as those from our fellow students coming from renowned universities:) and our grades (even if we struggled to get good ones) are not as important. That sucks but that's life.

Good luck with your future endeavors, I wish you luck in your admission process! Keep going!

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    +1 Not really an answer, but perhaps useful for the OP. Apr 30, 2023 at 19:08
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    @Tony2015 imo, this new information changes completely your situation. If your college has a record of students going to graduate school in such institutions and if you even got such a good recommendation letter, I think you getting a 91% instead of a 100% on a certain course (even if it's heavily related to your future research field) is not a big deal. That's just my opinion, but as @.EthanBolker and I point out, you don't really know much your grades will matter. Either way, I hope that helps you ease your mind, don't worry for stuff out of your control!
    – Amelian
    Apr 30, 2023 at 23:13
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    Big +1 for the "engage in undergraduate research program" advice. Showing that you've done some actual research — even of the more basic variety that an undergrad could crank out in a summer — is an extremely important indicator, and doubly so for experimentalists. Also, @Tony2015, a recommendation from a prof with a PhD from Caltech is very good, because one assumes that the prof really understands the level at which you'll be expected to work. Sounds like you'll do great!
    – Mike
    May 1, 2023 at 14:56
  • I guess I should keep getting the work in and hope for the best. Thank you for your input!
    – Tony2015
    May 2, 2023 at 0:49
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If I were on the graduate admissions committee and saw a strong application my answer to

Do you think that this grade can influence my graduate admission chances?

would be "probably not".

For someone else the answer might be "yes" but the real question is not "whether?" but "how much?". That no one can say. It depends on too many other factors.

So go ahead and write the best application you can. Whether you fail or succeed probably won't depend on this single factor.

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  • The thing is if graduate admissions comittee look at the overall GPA, rather than the grades obtained in specific courses. If they do the latter, then it may be an issue, to some degree, depending on the level of the other candidates, which is usually really strong. Also coming from a university from Latin America, I already have a disadvantage compared to my peers from US or European universities.
    – Tony2015
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:40
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    No one here can tell you how much this will matter (or even be noticed) at any particular school. All you can do is apply to an appropriate range of schools and hope for the best. Good luck. Apr 30, 2023 at 17:47

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