What Is a Passing Grade in College?

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What Is a Passing Grade in College?
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
By Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on August 4, 2021

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As a history professor, I taught the world history course every graduate from the university had to pass, whether they majored in business, engineering, nursing, or the liberal arts. While fielding questions about ancient Chinese oracle bones and medieval bloodletting procedures, I ran into another common question: "What is a passing grade?"

The answer depends on the school and even the course. For example, the minimum passing grade for major coursework and general education courses sometimes differs from the lowest passing grade for electives. Students need to understand what counts as a passing grade at their school in order to give themselves the best shot at academic success.

What Is a Passing Grade?

A passing grade grants students credit for an academic course. Students who do not earn a passing grade do not receive credit on their transcript for that class.

Each college sets its own minimum passing grade. At some schools, a D-minus is the lowest passing grade. For example, at the University of Washington, students with a D-minus receive a 0.7 GPA and earn credit for the class. Anything lower than a D-minus receives a 0.0 GPA.

Lehigh University also considers a D-minus the lowest passing grade, as does Rutgers University. On a percentage system, 60% is the lowest passing score for these colleges.

Is a D a Passing Grade?

At most schools, a D is the lowest passing grade. That means students who earn a D or higher receive credit for the course.

However, some schools set special policies around D grades. For example, at Lehigh, a D counts as a passing grade but does not meet prerequisite requirements. That means students who earn a D in a prerequisite class must retake the course.

Many colleges also set rules about whether a D counts for major requirements. At Northwestern University, a D counts for general education requirements but not for courses in the student's major. In any major or minor course, learners must receive at least a C-minus.

Too many D grades also raise red flags for many colleges. At Princeton University, for example, undergrads who receive two or more D's in a semester may end up on academic probation.

Taking Classes Pass/Fail

Students worried about their GPA can consider taking classes pass/fail. Instead of a traditional letter grade, students receive a P if they earn a passing grade and an F for a failing grade.

A P grade does not impact a student's GPA. That means undergrads can avoid risking a hit to their grade point average if they opt to take a tough class pass/fail.

However, the rules for pass/fail classes vary depending on the school. While most colleges consider a D a passing grade for pass/fail courses, some require a C. And pass/fail classes may not count toward major or general education requirements.

Passing Grades in Graduate School

Graduate schools set different requirements for passing grades. In many graduate programs, students must earn at least a C or C-minus to pass a class. Many graduate schools also require a minimum 3.0 GPA to continue in the program.

For example, the University of Utah states that "a grade below C-minus is not accepted by the university toward a graduate degree." Departments can also set an even higher minimum passing grade.

At the University of Texas at Austin, graduate students must earn a C or higher to receive credit toward their degree. The University of Florida also uses a C as the lowest acceptable grade. However, courses with a B-minus, C-plus, or C grade may not count toward the degree unless students have an equal number of courses at the graduate level with a B-plus, A-minus, and A.

Passing Grade Policies

In addition to each school setting its own policies on passing grades, many departments have their own requirements. Students should research policies for their college and their major to make sure they receive credit for their coursework.

Students at risk of failing have several options. First, reach out to the professor to ask about ways to bring up your grade. Make sure you put in the time to complete every assignment and pass the exams. And look into tutoring services and writing centers for extra help.

If you do fail a class, remember that most schools let students retake failed classes to try and bring up their grades.

Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

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