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I recently completely messed up a graduate level class I'm taking.

There is little hope that I will get a reasonably good grade out of this course, therefore I'm contemplating dropping it. Even I don't drop and get everything to 100%, I will wind up with around 65 at the end. Horrible.

If I drop it, my GPA will be preserved but I will have a lot of explanation to do to my recommenders for grad school, and it is kind of awful that it would most likely to be the first course I will take in grad school. I'm glad I found out how hard it was while still being an undergrad, but I'm not happy at all that so much efforts were spent for a miserable result.

Would grad committee look more favorably towards a barely passed grad course you took as an undergrad, or no grad course at all but reasonable gpa.

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    Hey, at least you have the experience now. You never know what it's like until you try it, and so the next time you attempt it you'll do better because you'll know what to expect. Personally, I'd drop the course because then I'd be able to spend my time in a more useful way rather than dusting the chairs on the titanic. In terms of what to say to the recommenders, I'd just tell them the truth. And tell them what you learned from the experience and what you'll plan to do next time. – user116498 Oct 27 '14 at 8:44
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    Is a 65 horrible? Do you know how your classmates did? You might ask your instructor before getting too worried. – Frank Thorne Oct 27 '14 at 11:44
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The big question that both your recommenders and the admissions committee will wonder about is what this experience predicts for you in graduate school. If you do poorly when taking a grad class now, will you be able to do well in grad school?

One factor may be preparation. Maybe you were enthusiastic but overly ambitious, and in another year you'll have the experience and preparation needed to do well. This is the reassuring scenario.

Another possibility is that you're just not used to be challenged by courses, since the undergraduate program was not very demanding. Now that you know what you face, you'll take it more seriously and do better. It's entirely possible, but this scenario is more worrisome. Lots of people say "oh, next time I'll work harder," but this is easier said than done.

And there are even more worrisome possibilities. For example, maybe you just didn't like the material and couldn't bring yourself to engage deeply with it. This could be a symptom of lack of preparation, or it could be a sign that this field is not a good fit for you.

I'd recommend dropping the course. In grad school there's no value in barely passing a course: if you need to learn something, then you need to really learn it well, not just avoid failing. This means a bad grade on a transcript won't impress admissions committees, and it means you're going to have to go back and learn this material properly in the future anyway. Probably you should take this course in grad school. If you don't take it, then you'll need to put in some serious effort to master the material on your own.

Meanwhile, you should think about what went wrong and how to explain it to your recommenders, so that you reassure them regarding your future in grad school.

  • Thank you. I believe I'm the overly ambitious type. I'm not only taking this extremely hard grad course, but 4 other courses similar to it in difficulty at the same time. I thought I would be extremely motivated and engaged (i.e. sleep at 12 wake up at 5 and continue) but I'm more tired than I have ever been in my life. I have learnt from this experience and I will give it 100% in the future for similar courses now I know how hard it is. – Olórin Oct 27 '14 at 15:58

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