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What is a Passing Grade in College?

Updated: October 13, 2023 | Published: December 25, 2019

Updated: October 13, 2023

Published: December 25, 2019

What-is-a-Passing-Grade-in-College (1) (1)

Being a college student comes with a lot of hard work. No matter what your future plans are, it’s important to do your best in your college classes. This is especially true of those courses that relate directly to your major. Many people wonder, “What is a passing grade in college?” Coming from high school, the grading system doesn’t really change. In fact, a “D” is considered passing in both high school and college, as it’s above 60%. While a passing grade may be as low as 60%, you will want to aim higher for many reasons.

As a college student, you don’t want to aim to barely pass a class. Instead, there are resources you can use to do your best and achieve high grades. Let’s take a look at why your grades matter, the difference between a pass/no-pass course grade and how your GPA is calculated.

Getting a passing grade in college on tests

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The Overall Importance of Grades in College

In college, like in any year of school, grades are representative of how well you perform and absorb the information in a class.

Some professors may grade on a curve, thereby changing a normal grading scale to fit it to how the majority of students are performing. Others may stick to the standard grading scale of 90%+ being an A, 80-89% as a B, etc.

Every professor will have a different way to calculate grades. Some place more weight on exams, whereas others may care more about course assignments. At the beginning of the year, professors will share this information with you in a syllabus. Hang on to every syllabus in an organized place so you can always refer back to the grading system.

No matter how your professor grades, getting high grades in college is especially important if:

1. You plan to apply to grad school

When you apply to graduate school, one of the most important factors that the admissions committee will consider is your grades from undergraduate school. The admissions process will likely involve more than just grades, like letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, a personal statement, and more. However, your grades are one of the primary considerations because they show how well you understand the material. Grades are also reflective of your effort and dedication to a course.

2. Your job cares about your grades

Some job interviewers may ask for your GPA or consider it during the application process from your resume. This is likely true if your degree is directly correlated to your work. It is even more important if you lack experience in the field. Therefore, you may be relying on your academic experience to set you apart from the competition.

Is a D Considered Passing?

A letter grade of a D is technically considered passing because it not a failure. A D is any percentage between 60-69%, whereas a failure occurs below 60%.

Even though a D is a passing grade, it’s barely passing. As such, it is not looked at favorably. If you feel like you are on the verge of failing a class or receiving a D, it may be worthwhile to consider getting a tutor or attending office hours.

If you stay on top of your grades and can see when things start sliding in the wrong direction, you can ask for help and turn it around before it’s too late.

Pass/No Pass Classes

Some colleges let you take courses for pass/no pass, rather than a letter grade. In this instance, a D is generally not passing. A passing grade is considered to be a C or above. These types of courses also do not count towards your GPA because there is no letter grade to assign a numerical value.

GPAs and How They Work

Besides earning passing grades to graduate, your grades matter for your GPA. A GPA stands for grade point average. It is calculated by assigning a numerical value to letter grades and dividing by the total number of classes.

GPAs matter when you apply to graduate school. They also can set you apart when applying for jobs as you can include them on your resume if they are high enough. While this depends on your career choice, a GPA of 3.15 or above is generally well-respected. This GPA represents a B average.

When you solely pass classes, but not highly, your GPA will be affected. That’s why it’s always important to do your best and ask for help when you need it.

Alternatives to Not Passing

There may be times when passing a class just doesn’t seem doable at all. This could be because you have too many difficult classes to juggle, or perhaps there are circumstances outside of school that are causing you to lose focus. Regardless of what’s causing the situation, there may be other alternatives to consider before failing a class.

For starters, if the material seems too hard to master at any time and the course is not counted towards your major, you may want to drop the class before the add/drop deadline. If you pass the deadline and then drop the class, it will result in a withdrawal, or a W on your transcript. While a W is not counted towards your grade, it isn’t optimal to have on your transcript. Furthermore, too many Ws could end up resulting in dismissal from the institution. However, a W is still better than failing a class. You can also retake a withdrawn class, and more likely than not, only the new grade will count towards your GPA.

If you cannot drop the class or risk having a W on your transcript, don’t lose faith. If you approach your professor directly and explain your circumstances, they may be able to provide alternative solutions. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Studying to get passing grades in college

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The Bottom Line

Getting a passing grade in college is achievable. More likely than not, you’re going to want to aim higher than just passing. As such, you can rely on study resources and helpful tricks, leaning on peers for assistance, and asking professors for additional help if need be.