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Passing Grades in College: Understanding the Impact of a D

Is it the middle of the semester, and you feel ready to give up on any hope of an “A” in a specific class? You may even be wondering if it’s really worth trying for an “A” or a “B” at this point. Would settling for a “D” affect your GPA that much?

Getting a D in college can mean that you might not earn credit for the course you take. While a D grade is considered “passing,” at some colleges, it’s just barely passing. With it being so close to a failing grade, a D letter grade has the potential to tank your GPA drastically.

In this article, you’ll learn what happens to your GPA when you earn a D letter grade, what your options are when you see a D, and some tips for raising your grade throughout the semester. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of what it means to earn a “D” letter grade.

Can you pass college with a D grade?

Is a “D” a Passing Grade In College?

Technically speaking, a “D” is a passing grade in some college as it generally means an overall grade percentage of 60-69%. An “F” is any grade below 60%, so even though a “D” is passing, it’s close enough to an “F” that it can drastically affect your overall GPA.

While receiving a “D” means you passed, it isn’t something to settle for. 

You can receive a “D” and earn credit for taking the course, but some colleges have policies that may require you to retake the course for prerequisite purposes.

Can You Pass With a D In College?

You may or may not pass with a D in college, as it depends on the university’s policies. For example, Lehigh University considers a “D” a passing grade. However, any grade lower than a C- won’t count toward any prerequisite requirements, and you’ll have to retake the course.

In other cases, you may not receive credit if you earn a “D” in a class within your major or minor. Northwestern University has a specific policy that states that you can’t have a “D” or lower in more than ⅕ of your completed coursework to graduate (source).

Beyond that, Northwestern also requires you to have at least a 2.00 GPA to graduate. Excessive “D” grades will tank your GPA and make it harder to reach this requirement. Most other colleges and universities have adopted similar policies about earning “D” letter grades.

It’s always best to check with your specific college or university’s policy so you have an accurate idea of what will happen if you earn that particular mark.

How Bad Does a D Affect Your GPA?

It’s important to understand how GPAs are calculated before understanding how “D” letter grades affect your GPA. 

A D can affect your GPA in that it will bring it down significantly. Most colleges use a 4.0 grading scale, and each letter grade has a specific number ranging from 0.0-4.0. The grades you earn in your classes are divided by the number of credits each course is worth to determine your GPA.

Generally, student GPAs can be broken down into the following (source):

Letter GradeGrade Point Average (GPA)Numerical Percentage
A+ 4.097-100
A4.094-96
A-3.790-93
B+3.387-89
B3.084-86
B-2.780-83
C+2.377-79
C2.074-76
C-1.770-73
D+1.367-69
D1.064-66
D-0.760-63
F0.00-59

So, let’s say you took four classes during your first semester, and each course was worth three credits. During this semester, you earned three “A+” grades and one “B.” Your GPA for the first semester would equal 3.75 (source).

With this hypothetical in mind, let’s switch it up a little bit. Instead of earning a “B” in that one class, let’s say you received a “D.” If that were the case, your GPA would equal out to 3.25. Although this still leaves you with a “B” at the end of the semester, that one class tanked you an entire letter grade in the end.

See Does Your College GPA Really Matter?

Do You Have To Retake a Class If You Get a D In College?

You might have to retake a class if you get a D in college. If the class is important for your major, most colleges require you to get at least a C or higher in order to pass. If you got a D, then you will need to retake it to meet your college’s requirements for a degree.

Along with tanking your GPA and possibly keeping you from transferring credits, there are other consequences to keep in mind if you earn a “D.” If you rely on financial aid to pay for your schooling, a “D” letter grade could jeopardize that. Many financial aid lenders require you to maintain a certain grade point average to continue receiving funds from them.

If you earn multiple “D” s, your GPA suffers, and as a result, you lose the ability to pay for your studies.

Does a “D” Transfer From Community College To University?

Whether or not a “D” letter grade transfers from a community college to a university depends on the university you want to transfer to. Generally, an institution will require a “C-” or better to be eligible for credit transfer. However, some schools are more lenient depending on the class.

Ohio University is among those institutions that may give you a bit more wiggle room. While it’s generally preferred if you transfer credits with a “C-” grade or higher, you can transfer some credits with a “D+” (source). 

Because each school is different, it’s essential to check your desired school on their credit transfer policies. 

With that said, many schools also have a minimum GPA requirement to transfer into their institution. If you’ve earned more than one “D” in your community college classes, that likely won’t reflect well on your GPA when you apply for transfer.

What Are Your Options?

If you earn a “D” or are struggling to keep up with a particular class, there are a few options available to you:

  • Drop or retake the course.
  • Find a tutor or study group.
  • Speak to your professor during office hours.

Earning a “D” in a class is undoubtedly frustrating and stressful, especially if you feel like you’re working hard. Whenever that’s the case, though, it’s important to remember you can always retake the course. 

There isn’t a limit on the number of times you can retake the class either.

Even though your “D” grade is likely a pass, retaking the class allows you to be more diligent and focused the second time around. On top of that, your better grade will replace the “D” and fix your GPA.

If the semester isn’t quite over yet and you haven’t missed the deadline to withdraw, you can always drop the class and retake it at a later time. You can still drop the course after the withdrawal deadline, but keep in mind that you won’t be refunded or earn any credit for the amount of time you were in the class.

See Should I Drop or Fail? (A College Student’s Perspective)

On the other hand, you can also schedule a meeting with your professor during their office hours. 

If the semester isn’t over yet, you can ask how you can try to improve your grade in the time you have left. As long as you’re sincere and genuinely want to improve, your professor will likely be more understanding.

With that said, don’t walk into their office and ask for extra credit to boost your grade right off the bat. 

In many cases, a professor will have a specific extra credit/grading policy explicitly laid out in the course syllabus. It may be wise to skim over the syllabus again before your meeting. This way, you don’t ask for anything they’ve already said no to.

If you are unable to get your professor to reply to an email, have a look at our guide, Professor Won’t Respond to Emails? Here’s Why And What To Do

Is a D Good Enough?

A D might not be good enough, and depending on how much time remains in the semester, you have various options for raising your grade a bit. Your first, and perhaps the most important, step is to look back at how you’re doing in your classes. 

Figure out how many “D” grades you currently have and what you can do to fix them.

If the semester is coming to an end, it may be difficult to change the grade by much. However, you could still possibly raise your grade to a “C-” if you try hard enough.

Once you’ve made mental notes of your course load, you should list out all due dates and exams for the class, as well as anything else you think you should do to raise your grade. A calendar may also be helpful for this so you can keep track of how much time you have to complete each task.

You should also assess your personal habits. 

Are you struggling in your class because you’re slacking, or because you don’t understand the content? Regardless of your answer, you need to acknowledge these issues before you’ll be able to solve them.

On top of that, creating a study schedule gives you designated time to focus on the content you need to learn for your class. If you’re someone who struggles with focusing while studying, it may be helpful to find a group of students in your class to study with. 

If that isn’t an option, you can also check out your school’s tutoring center for extra help.

Talking to Your Professor

Talking to professors about grades is a tricky business because it’s easy to come off sounding like you’re looking for a free handout. However, a good professor will want to see you succeed, so it’s worth scheduling office hours with them if you’re sincere about wanting to improve.

Before you go into your meeting with your professor, keep these tips in mind:

  • Read the syllabus beforehand. In most cases, professors lay out their policies on grading and extra credit in the course syllabus. Go over the class syllabus again to be sure you don’t sound like you haven’t read it at all when speaking to your professor.
  • Be realistic with yourself. If you’ve spent the entire semester slacking off or only putting half an effort into the class, you need to ask yourself if you really want to keep going. If the answer is no, or you hesitate in answering yourself, then you’re better off dropping the class and trying another time again.
  • Briefly explain why you want to meet in an email. In your email, simply state that you’re concerned about your grade and want to speak with your professor. Don’t go into full detail about the “why” because that would defeat the entire purpose of a face-to-face meeting.
  • Be respectful of their time. On the day of your meeting, make sure you show up on time. Showing up a few minutes early to wait is even better. To them, this is the first sign that you’re serious about improving your grade.
  • Ask them how you can improve. Even if your professor doesn’t offer you extra credit, you can genuinely ask their advice on how you can do better in the future. With that said, you also need to follow through on their recommendation, or they’re going to think you’re insincere.
  • Be open and honest. Don’t go in with excuses for why your grade is suffering. However, if you’ve been dealing with issues outside of the classroom, it’s essential to make them aware of your situation at the very least. You don’t have to give them all the details, but let them know that you’re trying.

It’s always best to go to your professor for help or advice as soon as you feel like you’re struggling. If you do this, you’re far less likely to see that “D” letter grade at the end of the semester.

Parting Thoughts

A good GPA relies on good grades to maintain a high average. When a “D” letter grade comes into play, it becomes increasingly more challenging to bring your GPA back up to where it was beforehand.

While a “D” is considered a passing grade at most colleges and universities, it isn’t something to settle for. A “D” can tank your GPA by entire letter grades, and after your average has fallen to a certain point, it’s challenging to bring it back up to an acceptable number.

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