Is Repeating a Course a Good Idea? Definitely!

In thinking about writing this post I had to do something that I had not done in a long time—think back 35 years to when I was an undergraduate at Temple University in Philadelphia. Overall, I had a really positive undergraduate career, but I remember one time period when there was a course issue that left me totally clueless and stressed to the max. The short version is that I done relatively poorly in my statistics course in my major of Psychology and was in a frenzy about what to do. I probably should have dropped the course soon after the semester started—I think I was a freshman, the size of the class was relatively large (over 50) and the Instructor’s teaching style (don’t worry, I still remember the Instructor’s name!) was just not best for me. I thought I could just plow ahead and get an A or B, but in the end that wasn’t going to happen. In the end I got a C, and spent a number of sleepless nights trying to figure out what I should do top deal with this grade. Luckily, I started doing some reading about university rules and realized that I could repeat the course.


Repeating a course is just what it means—you take a course a second time—and there are some real advantages to using this option. Keep in mind that almost all schools have some type of repeat option. Of course, some options are better than others, but the fact that you can deal with a grade you were not happy with in a positive manner is a real plus. With this in mind, it is critical that you read through the official policy of your school to make sure you understand exactly what the policy allows. In addition, make sure you understand what steps you need to take in order to use a repeat option (e.g., filling out a repeat-option form).

Also, if you are going to use a repeat option, take it very seriously and make sure you are prepared to put maximum time and effort into improving your grade from the first time you took the course. My point here is that if you are just going through the motions and do not think you can improve your grade it might not be worth using a repeat option.

With all of the above in mind, here are 4 primary advantages to a repeat option:

1) Not only do schools have repeat-option policies, most schools allow you to repeat more than one course. But you have to repeat a course that had a letter grade for the same course with a letter grade. That it is typically not the case that you can initially take a course for a grade, do poorly (e.g., get a D) and then you can repeat the course on a Pass/Fail basis. The repeat option is designed to keep things equal with regard to the re-taking of the course.

2) At many schools only the grade and credit hours for the second completion is used in computing your GPA and credit hours. This is HUGE! It means that the first low grade you earned is wiped from the calculation of your GPA. When you are talking about going from, for example, an initial grade of D to a new grade of A the impact on your GPA can be significant. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not every school follows this rule. Some schools will calculate your GPA based on BOTH grades. Of course, this is not great, but it beats the alternative of having only that first grade worked into your GPA calculation.

repeatcourse23) A repeat option offers you the chance to overcome any obstacles that you encountered when you originally took a course. This might have included medical issues, personal problems, difficulty managing your classes, difficulty managing work and school, not being mentally prepared to take the course, not realizing you should have dropped the course, etc. Regardless of your past situation, a repeat option allows you to show that the problem(s) that may have been present when you originally took a course will not impact you now, and you can be free to do really well in the course this second time. I will add that in my 28 years of teaching I am pretty sure that every one of my students who did a repeat option improved their grade. This likely the result of students having already had some experience with the course material (even if their grade was not great), but also due to students being highly motivated to prove that they could do better.

4) Repeating a course makes a positive point to those who may evaluate your record that you are a highly motivated individual. You make clear that there were problems with a course in the past but you were committed to earning a higher grade by taking the course again. I personally do not believe repeating a course makes you look “weak” in any fashion.

I am sure you can tell that I am very big on repeat options, but I want to close by discussing a few points that should think about before moving in this direction. First, if you take a course over you must decide whether to take the course over with same Instructor or someone different. The same instructor gives you maximum overlap but you again dealing with someone who you likely did not mesh well with. A different instructor gives you less overlap, but their style may work better for you. My advice is to find out something about the different instructor before you make your choice. Second, it is almost always the case that when you repeat a course that the original grade still appears on your transcript. It will show the original course and note that it has been repeated. Your transcript will typically make some mention of how the original grade is not calculated as part of your GPA. Then the repeated course will appear with your new grade. Third, when you repeat a course you end up paying for these additional credit hours. It is not as though your school is going to let you repeat a course for free. Fourth, if you repeat a course someone could argue that you wasted time the first time you took the course. I disagree with this position, but you will have to decide exactly what value the original course had for you. Finally, keep in mind that you must repeat course at the same school to have it count toward GPA–if your school allows for the repeated course to be calculated in some manner into your GPA.

In the end, I feel it is well worth using a repeat option if you need it. I think you will find it is an option that has a greater benefit than cost.

Getting Sick In College: What Should You Do?

Many students think that when they go to college they will never get sick or suffer any medical condition that might make them miss class. Sadly, this is almost never the case. Whether it is the common cold or a broken leg, there are times when you will have to face missing class due to some medical condition. What can be tough when this happens, is figuring out what you need to do as far as your classes.

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To begin thinking about all of this, I feel that there are several critical questions you need to get answered. First what is your school’s policy concerning excused absences and medical conditions? For example, many schools will excuse you for a medical condition, but you need official documentation of your condition. This documentation is some letter, memo, etc. from a doctor or school health clinic—it is not a note from your parents. To find out your school’s policy on this point and other issues I will discuss you need to check an official school document. This is a case where you don’t just ask a friend or even your Instructor, you need get the official information yourself. I am sure that a quick search of the Internet, using keywords like “excused absence” and your school’s name will lead you to the information you need.

At this point, it is important to note that your school’s policy will typically not distinguish between different medical conditions. This could mean that a cold is typically viewed the same as have mono—sick is sick. The problem with your school thinking this way is that you are probably like most people and think that only some medical conditions are worthy of going to a doctor. That is, if you wake up with a cold it probably does not seem worth taking the time to visit a clinic or paying a clinic fee. Unlike a more serious illness, the cold will likely go away regardless of going to the clinic or not. You can also argue that it is better to hang at home for a minor illness because (a) it will be tough to pay attention when you feel so bad, (b) you want to get better quickly by resting and drinking plenty of fluids, and (c) you don’t may spread your germs to others.

Second, if you are miss class due to an illness are you required to inform the Instructor? Typically, the answer is yes. The reason for this is that being excused from class does not excuse you from the work you missed. Thus, if you do not make sure your Instructor knows why you missed class you will not get to make up any work and your grade of course will suffer. Remember, that just because you have an excused absence does not mean you get a free pass and a score of 100% on whatever graded activity you missed. I will add that (a) your schools probably has a time frame for informing your Instructor and (b) it is a good idea to contact your Instructor (e.g., via email) when you miss class.


Third, is there any school policy that limits the number of excused absences you can have? You might think that if you have a serious illness and must miss a third of the semester, that’s not your fault and you should be able to make up the work you missed. It is likely, however, that your school has a policy that limits your excused absences to a certain percentage of classes in a semester. If you go beyond this limit you might be able to withdraw from a course or the Instructor may ask you to withdraw.

Fourth, are you always allowed to make up work you missed due to an excused absence? In general, you have the right to make up any graded work (e.g., a quiz or exam) you miss due to an excused sickness in the semester you are taking a course. However, there may be specific rules about this and certain circumstances (e.g., getting sick right before a final exam) may make this impossible. In addition, there is a real problem if the course you are taking has a participation requirement. If you are missing class due to an excused absence you of course cannot participate and your grade will suffer. Your school may have rules about how you can avoid losing points, but it may be that there is no reasonable way to make up participation points; you may lose these points.

Let me add one other very important point about making up work. Having an excused absence does not mean you have the right to receive notes from the Instructor because you missed class. Although your Instructor may give you notes you miss, don’t count on it and make sure you have some alternate plan for obtaining notes from a classmate.

Finally, be very clear what your Instructor has to say about excused absences. It might be that you have an Instructor who is pretty rigid and follows the school policy on all aspects of excused absences. There is really nothing you can do about this, because they are simply following the rules. However, you might have an Instructor who shows more flexibility. For example, I do not require documentation for every illness. However, I expect my students to contact me before or right after class when they are ill. In addition, I keep track of these undocumented excused absences so that I am not allowing students to miss a lot of classes—there is a point where I will need to see documentation.

Related to how your Instructor thinks about excused absences, always make sure you check the syllabus for each of your classes to see if anything is stated about excused absences. Your Instructor may or may not list their unique policies. As always, it is important to keep in mind that your Instructor is not required to list all of the school’s policies on excused absences—you are expected to be aware of these policies.

In closing, let me say that getting sick in college is a drag. It can put you behind and force you into playing catch-up. Still, I hope reading this post will get you thinking about how to deal with any sickness and help you figure out the best way to keep up with your studies.