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What's considered “passing” a class in college?

Published March 11, 2024| minute read

    Successfully passing your college classes is essential for meeting your degree requirements in a timely manner and, in some cases, maintaining eligibility for financial aid if you’re receiving it. But what exactly is a passing grade in college, and how can you stay on top of your classes and grades to make sure you’re sticking to your graduation plan and not having to spend extra money and time potentially retaking classes?

    “Passing” a class in college typically refers to getting a grade in a class that’s considered sufficient by your school to pass a class. What that means at your school and in specific courses, though, can vary.

    Continue reading to learn more about what it means to pass a college class and what to do if you fail a class.

    What “passing” a class means in college

    Although what it takes to pass a college class depends on your school, below is the breakdown of the grades that are usually considered passing or failing.

    See below for the breakdown of what each letter correlates to regarding the percentage grade, grade point average (GPA), and what’s considered a pass or fail grade.

    • A = 90-100% = 3.7 - 4.0 GPA = Pass
    • B = 80-89% = 2.7 - 3.3 GPA = Pass
    • C = 70-79% = 1.7 - 2.3 GPA = Pass
    • D = 65-69% = 1.0 - 1.3 GPA = Pass
    • F = 0-64% = 0.0 GPA = Fail

    It’s important to note that the grades you need to meet your core curriculum, major requirements, and financial aid requirements (if you’re receiving this aid) might be different than those listed above. For example, some schools require students to maintain a certain GPA across all courses to be eligible for graduation. Any scholarships and other financial aid you receive may also have their own requirements to remain eligible for the aid.

    So. while receiving grades other than an “F” may be considered passing, you may need to do more than pass in college to be eligible for financial aid and to stay on track to graduate on time. This is why meeting regularly with an academic advisor is important to ensure you’re staying on track. 

    What you need to know about classes you take pass/fail

    Some schools may allow students to take courses on a pass/fail basis. This means that students won’t receive a letter grade but will just receive a “pass” or “fail.”

    Taking a class on a pass/fail basis also means that although your class will count towards the course requirements for graduation, your grade for that class won’t be used to calculate your overall GPA. Students may decide to take a class pass/fail if they’re concerned that they may not perform well in a class and want to protect their GPA.

    What consequences come with failing a college course?

    Failing a college course can have a range of consequences, which may include:

    • Impact on academic standing: Failing a college course can impact your academic standing, including your GPA and progress towards completing your degree.
    • Impact on your financial aid: Failing a course because of its effect on your GPA may affect your eligibility for financial aid, including federal financial aid and scholarships.
    • Impact on eligibility for a particular college major or program: At some colleges and universities, you’ll need to maintain a certain GPA or pass all classes to maintain your eligibility to pursue a certain major or program.
    • Might lead to having to repeat a course: Depending on the college or university, if you fail a course, you may be required to retake the class to fulfill your degree requirements. This may impact both your graduation timeline and academic workload.
    • Could have financial implications: Failing a course may result in additional costs if you need to retake a course. It may also extend the time it takes to earn your degree and impact your overall financial investment in your education.
    • Could impact future academic and career goals: Failing a course may impact your academic and career goals, especially if the course is a prerequisite for future classes or a requirement for your intended major or program.

    What should you do if you’re in danger of failing a class in college?

    If you find yourself in a situation where you’re unsure if you’ll be able to pass a course, here are steps you can consider taking:

    • Communicate with your professor: Reach out to your professor to discuss your concerns and see if there are any opportunities to improve your grade. They may be able to provide guidance or offer additional resources to help you succeed.
    • Seek academic support: Take advantage of tutoring services, study groups, or any other academic support offered by your school. These resources may be able to provide additional help and support to improve your understanding of the course material.
    • Review your study habits: Reflect on your study habits and time management. Adjusting your approach to studying and managing your time can make a significant difference. For instance, if you pull all-nighters for your exams, you might want to reconsider that approach.
    • Prioritize the class you’re in danger of failing: Dedicate additional time and effort to the class you’re in danger of failing to catch up on any missed assignments, improve your understanding of the material, and prepare for upcoming exams or projects. You may need to deprioritize other commitments to do this, and that’s OK.
    • Consider your options: If you’ve exhausted all possibilities and it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to pass the class, consider speaking with an academic advisor to explore options such as withdrawing from the class or retaking it.

    What are practical steps to take if you do fail a class in college?

    If you do fail a class, it’s advisable to be as proactive as possible. Here are some steps to consider taking:

    • Meet with your academic advisor: Schedule a meeting with your academic advisor to discuss the impact of the failed class on your academic plan and explore options for retaking the course or adjusting your schedule to stay on track for graduation. You can also work with an academic advisor to develop a plan to improve your academic performance, be it improving your time management or addressing any personal issues affecting your studies.
    • Consider retaking the class: Depending on your school and program, retaking the class may wipe away the fail or your college may average the two grades. At the very least, they'll ensure the credit counts towards any degree requirements you’re trying to fulfill.
    • Explore tutoring and other academic support: Take advantage of tutoring and other academic support services to try to maintain as strong of a GPA as possible in the face of failing a class.
    • Review the financial aid implications of failing a class: Contact the financial aid office at your school to understand how failing a class affects your financial aid status if you’re receiving financial aid. For instance, you may need to meet certain criteria to retain your aid, such as maintaining a minimum GPA or completing a certain percentage of attempted credits.

    Final thoughts

    It’s important to try to stay ahead of your classes to ensure you can meet your graduation requirements. Each school may have different requirements for what passing a class means. It’s essential to do your due diligence to understand your school and your individual class requirements.