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I am a senior who is planning on applying to psychology graduate program after a gap year. In the past three years, I have been involved in research projects and also internships that greatly enhanced my understanding of the subject matter, and I believe going to a graduate school will definitely equip me better.

I am wondering if it is a wise move to retake a class (not a core class by the way) that I got A minus in. I have 4 other advanced classes that I am taking and I thought why not shove that A minus class in and get A. My intention is to see whether I can do better (slightly better...) this time.

What are the pros and cons of doing this, particularly when I apply to prestigious and competitive grad programs?

I appreciate harsh snaps as long as they are provided with reasonable explanations.

To add more details,

Yes, my university allows students to retake classes regardless of the past grade obtained, and while it will still be showing the retaken classes.

I am an international student from a (Far) Eastern country, I have been studying in the U.S for 8 straight years, and I believe, in regards to psychology, the U.S appears to have the most leading programs in the world. (this might be debatable so please excuse me if my conviction is terribly wrong.)

Also, I aforementioned prestigious and competitive graduate programs. What I meant are Research 1 universities. Obviously, schools like Harvard and Stanford are in that long list of schools, but so do Arizona State University and University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

To be clear, my goal is to expand my knowledge and deepen my comprehension of the subject in where I have access to Professors, colleagues, connections, and resources with qualities. Eventually, I wish to obtain Ph.D but if it is too competitive and I fall short, I will go for Master first.

In completion of Ph.D, I hope to bring those experience back to my country where the discipline of cognitive psychology has been stagnant in general.

So, back to my original question, I am wondering if I should retake the non-core class that I got A minus in my last semester as an undergraduate, when I have a room for another class to fill in. If I get that stupid A, I will be able to set my GPA to 4.0.

But that is all I get and if this works against my graduate application, I will reconsider.

Thank you all for these valuable comments. I will take each and every one of that as a useful advice.

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    At my institution, you would not be allowed to repeat any course in which you earned a passing grade. You might check on that. – Bob Brown Jan 14 '17 at 0:06
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    You represent all that is wrong with an education system. Are you there to learn or to acquire meaningless points? – Martin F Jan 14 '17 at 1:08
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    @Martin: No A- student represents all that is wrong with an education system. – Pete L. Clark Jan 14 '17 at 1:39
  • The key missing thing in this question is in which country you are (as asked in the rules: academia.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic). As this has very different answers based on the country and education system. – qwertzguy Jan 14 '17 at 1:47
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    I'm not familiar with the GPA system and the idea of retaking courses, but it appears to be a complete waste of time. You did well in the course, so take a follow-up course, or a different course. – Earthliŋ Jan 14 '17 at 11:11
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TL;DR: Probably not worth it. Take something else and expand your horizons.

From a knowledge perspective, you're not getting anything out of this. You got an A- in the course -- on a transcript, that should tell any graduate school that you understand the material in the course.

So any potential gain here would be for your GPA. On a 4.0 scale, an A- is a 3.7. If that 0.3 is the difference between a 3.5 GPA and a 3.4 GPA, go for it. Otherwise, find yourself another class and accept that you aren't perfect (nor will any graduate school expect you to be).

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    The weight of an A- varies from school to school. For example, at my university it is a 3.84 which potentially gives the OP even less motivation to retake the course. – Austin Henley Jan 13 '17 at 22:42
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    Even if GPAs were only reported to one decimal place, and even if it were the difference between 3.4 and 3.5 (etc.), I still don't think it's worth it to retake the course. That difference in a GPA won't matter much on grad school applications, and it won't matter at all after that. [Not to mention: given that it will probably be a boring experience, it's not even a lock that the OP will actually improve their grade!] – Greg Martin Jan 14 '17 at 9:22
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    @AustinHenley 3.84 -- What is this I dont even – JeffE Jan 15 '17 at 19:11
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I would actually consider doing this a negative.

One of the things I noticed when I started my PhD work is that the transition from undergraduate work can be a harsh one. Expectations soar, all of your peers are just as good at this as you are, and most importantly, grades become less important than learning to execute good research. Time and stress management become even more important.

The students who seem to me to struggle the most, especially in the first year, are the perfectionists. You don't mention if you're looking at a PhD or MA, but all else equal, seeing a student who felt they needed to retake an A- class to get an A would suggest a... brittle nature. Are you going to be able to cope with anything less than perfection in your graduate work? Will a setback lead you to burnout? Because setbacks are normal in graduate work and in research.

It also suggests you're more interested in achieving perfection than in actually learning, because an A- clearly means you learned the subject quite well. And yet you still retook it instead of learning something new.

Now granted, none of this needs to necessarily apply to you; maybe you are the rare student who can breeze through graduate work with all As, or can successfully transition to focusing on research with not-all-As. But that would not be my assumption when seeing this on an application.

My suggestion is to broaden your horizons and take something else.

  • +1. In general I totally understand the impulse to gravitate towards name-brand recognition, especially in the United States, but a prospective graduate student looking only for "prestigious and competitive" graduate programs is likely to overlook some or all of the best options for their research interests and/or their career goals. Popular culture makes a big deal out of having a Ph.D. from Princeton or Harvard or Stanford, but if the one program with excellent scholars in the chosen field happens to be at (say) Arizona State, students are risking a heck of a lot by feeling dismissive. – trikeprof Jan 15 '17 at 18:06
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    @Jeff .Probably you pinpointed my situation in the most accurate way... I do have perfectionism issues and that's probably why I am struggling with this in the first place. So, in short, if I were an admission committee myself, seeing that on the transcript would only tell that this applicant is very anal about the grade but not really about the subject, even when the applicant has few years of research experience? – llwll Jan 15 '17 at 22:51
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    @llwll There's nothing wrong with getting good grades, obviously. It's more about the opportunity cost here; you could have done a lot of productive things that showed you valued learning your subject or doing research, and instead you opted to try and improve an A- to an A. That just seems like an unhealthy commitment to perfection, I think. – Jeff Jan 16 '17 at 8:55
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My BA is from an American college and in linguistics. I did fairly poorly (as in, a B-) in a required class within my major and even then was advised not to bother retaking it for the sake of graduate applications. It was clear that it was an outlier among my grades, and one of my letter-writers said they mentioned it and described it as not a very good measure of my potential. Application season went well and I did my Ph.D. at my first choice of school. Not saying that this is always going to be the case, but I don't think a single A- would make the slightest difference, especially if the rest of your application presents a well-reasoned and thoughtful explanation of why you want to go to grad school and why the University of X is a place you feel would suit you well.

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As Jeff explained brilliantly above, this seems to be a typical example of not being able to cope with any setbacks, which would not seem to be a very good indicator for doing PhD research. Being perfectionist might work for undergraduate and even for Masters but for actually doing research, where grades really do not matter at all (I'm not familiar with the US system though, so I might be wrong), being perfectionist is as useless as it can get. You'll see that you'll have inevitable failures as a researcher and you'll have to rise from your ashes many, many times (ok, I might be a tad dramatic here!) and then you'll understand that a stupid A- is as trivial as it can get for your career.

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First, your grad programs won't see the grade until after you're accepted, so it won't help your admission. Second, you'd be giving up an opportunity to take something new.

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    OP says they are taking a gap year, so the grade will be seen by grad programs. – Nate Eldredge Jan 14 '17 at 3:40
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I've worked through this problem before for myself, and it's almost always not worth it (especially if you're in a 4 year honours program).

Double check that your school (AND the school you are applying to) will not average your grade between the two classes!

Probably, you'd be better of spending the same amount of class hours looking for a great volunteer/experiential aspect during your gap year.

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