When Should You Retake a College Course?

Now that grades are posted for the spring semester, some students may have discovered that they didn’t do quite as well in a class as they expected to when they registered. Maybe you realized several weeks into the course that the material wasn’t clear, or maybe you were doing fine, but you didn’t perform well on the final. Whatever the reason for your subpar grade, you may now be thinking about retaking the class next semester. Consider these questions to help you determine when you should retake a college course:

Will your school factor a second grade into your GPA?

Colleges have different policies regarding students who retake classes. Some schools will replace your first grade in the course with your second grade, effectively erasing your first (and hopefully lower) grade from your GPA. However, your college may average your grades instead – or not offer grade replacement at all. Before you decide to retake a class, ask about your school’s grade policy, and then decide if retaking the college course will truly reflect the academic improvement that you would like it to. 

Is the class a requirement for a major, a career, or a graduate school, and did you achieve the minimum grade necessary to fulfill that requirement?

Many majors require a grade of C or better in all related coursework, and certain graduate schools may set minimum grades for prerequisite undergraduate coursework. If you met the minimum grade requirement – even if the grade wasn’t your ideal grade – you may not be allowed to retake the class. In this case, it may be best to move on and to search for other ways to improve your GPA or application. These three study tips may be able to help you in your future college exams.

Were there unforeseen circumstances that led to your poor performance in the course, and are those circumstances resolved?

Sometimes, events in your personal life like a death in your family or a major illness can prevent you from doing your best. In this instance, consider whether you have recovered enough to improve your grade if you retake the class. Many times, one low grade can be explained and forgiven in interviews or applications, and it is not worth performing poorly again if the extenuating circumstances that led to the first bad grade have not been resolved.

Do you think that you are able to master the course material?

If you took a course that was well beyond your academic capabilities, retaking that class may do little to improve your performance. If you’re still interested in the subject but aren’t sure that you can handle the caliber of coursework expected, consider looking for lower-level classes within the same discipline instead of retaking the first course. (This is especially useful with electives.)

Is the class offered soon after the last time you took it?

Even though you may not have done very well in the course, chances are that you learned some of the material involved. Retaking the class as soon as possible will put you in the best position to succeed. If the course isn’t offered again for a year or more, consider whether retaking it is worth potentially forgetting any information you may already have about the subject. If you do decide to retake the course trying a different note-taking format may also help you succeed the second time around.