Flunked Out of College. Can I Get Into Grad School?

A few days ago, we talked about whether you can get into grad school with a GPA of under 3.0. Conclusion: Yes, but it’s hard, and you’re going to have to make up for it with other strengths (experience, recommendations, research, etc.).

But now Kelsey has upped the ante. A low GPA is one thing, but what if you’ve actually flunked out of college altogether? And in spectacular fashion? Any hope for grad school then?

flunked out of college
"Nothing is over, Kelsey! Nothing! You just don't turn it off!"

This is in response to your last question: you say if you “almost” flunk out and then pull your grades up, you can probably get into grad school. I DID flunk out of my university a year and a half ago, spectacularly, ending up with a 0.35 GPA

Hey man, if you’re gonna do it, do it in style, right? 🙂

(It takes a special kind of person, I guess.)

No judging here, Kelsey. Well, guess I can’t say that’s 100% so if I’m calling myself “Judge Josh.” But anyway, yeah, everyone’s life veers off the rails to some degree at some point. Let’s see how we might be able to right the situation.

That summer, I pulled my life together, got my priorities straight, and went to a trade school for nursing…which completely kicked my ass, but also made me get on top of my game, and I’m graduating soon near the top of my class. (I took my last final a few weeks ago and I’m just waiting to take my licensing exam.)


However, although I love what I’m doing, I know I don’t want to be a nurse forever–I want to go back to university, retake the classes I messed up, and eventually go to graduate school for Literature.

OK. I really do hope that a graduate literature degree turns into a profession for you if you want it to, but at the same time, just in case, I’m really glad you have nursing to fall back on if it doesn’t. 🙂

I’m on my way to getting readmitted–in addition to my full-time nursing classes, I’m taking a couple of classes at community college right now as well.


If I get nothing but straight A’s from now on, retake the classes I failed, plus have good GRE scores and professional/life experience, do you think I have a chance of getting into any kind of decent grad school?

Absolutely. This is America, baby — NOTHING IS OVER! Rambo said that, and although you may not look to Stallone flicks for educational and career inspiration, believe me, it’s there.

We give second chances to criminals of all kinds: thieves, thugs, and scammers of all sorts. Hell, we even give second chances to a lot of murderers, for God’s sake.

You can get your legs cut off in an accident and we’ll put prostheses on ’em and soon enough, you can go out and run a 5K. You can go bankrupt in spectacular fashion, multiple times, and still turn out to be Donald Trump. You can go from a shopkeeper who failed at everything he ever tried to president of the United States in around eight years (that was Ulysses S. Grant).

OK, you get the picture. Can you find one grad school (because one is all you need) to take a chance on you after you colossally screwed up college the first time around? Yes, I think so.

Won’t they simply look at the first half of my nearly straight-F transcript and throw my application in the trash?

Well, some might. But the older and further away those F’s become in the rearview mirror, the less they matter to the gatekeepers.

At this point, you should really pore over the comments — much more so than what I wrote myself — from this post about getting into grad school with a low GPA.  The gang left a ton of good stuff there — real-life examples from people who have actually been through this process and gotten into grad school with a low GPA.

One of the best suggestions there, mentioned by multiple people, is to talk the program into letting you take some grad courses as a non-degree student. If you do well in a couple of those, seems like you’re much more likely to be admitted, regardless of anything on your transcript from years ago.

(And it bears repeating in a side note here that the commenters on this site provide at least as much value, if not more, than the posts I write. This site has the most literate and thoughtful commenters of any site I’ve worked on over the last 15 years. So do yourself a favor and always check out the comments, because there are lots of really smart people giving great advice down there!)

The worst part is that I don’t even have a real REASON for flunking those classes–it was a combination of social anxiety/apathy/illness, which basically boils down to me being lazy and irresponsible. How can my application ever recover from getting 36 credits of Fs that aren’t even explainable?

Everything’s explainable. The explanation here is, to use your words, that you were lazy and irresponsible. There you go. Not completely unheard of, or even uncommon, for a 19-year-old.

Also not uncommon are brilliant and accomplished men and women of all stripes and all ages who were, in fact, lazy and irresponsible 19-year-olds.

Shit happens, and you’re not expected to be perfect at 19. The important thing is that you wise up and grow up as soon as you can, and it seems like you’ve done that.

Keep up the strong academic work and commit to doing extra duty in terms of softening up a graduate admissions committee when the time comes, and I do believe you’ll get into a grad program.

— What about you guys? Does Kelsey have a prayer? What can she do to get into grad school after failing out of undergrad? Let us know in the comments below.

8 thoughts on “Flunked Out of College. Can I Get Into Grad School?”

  1. Here are a few things to consider.
    First – it’s sometimes possible to get the F erased, and the new grade for the class you took over replacing it. Check with your registrar.
    Second, I agree with the advice to take the graduate courses first before you declare your intention or requesting admittance.
    Third, take a look at study materials for your GRE. Writing is crucial on this test! (I think mine was a third of the value.)
    Fourth, make friends with a professor or three who will write nice letters for you. Recommendation letters go a long way, and more if the professor knows what you are doing. If you are volunteering at the homeless shelter, active in your clubs, etc. make a list for the professor writing the letter. They may enjoy your comments in class, but they probably don’t see the whole picture.
    I wish you success in your endeavors!

  2. As Julie pointed out, most institutions have a process called “academic renewal” where you can retake a course that you got a D or F in and the old grade gets lined out on your transcript, and you get the new grade applied.

    There are limits, however to how much academic renewal is allowed, so you would need to check with the institutions where you got the Fs to see what their rules are.

  3. Flunked out at 1.48 in 2002. Graduated this May with a 2.92. Had I not gotten a B and B- my last semester I would have maintained my 4 semesters of As and A-s and gotten a 3.017, yes America is the land of opportunity!!! I’ve been advised to take non-degree courses too and yes I took my notes on getting into grad school with a low GPA.

  4. DO expect to be asked about these grades. Even if you wait 20 years to go back to school, schools will ask! My mom went back to college, about 15 years after her original graduation, and was asked to explain the couple of C’s that her 19 year old self received. (Her overall GPA wasn’t even low.) Try to judge the tone of the room. Do not tell a bald-faced lie, but if you don’t feel “I was 19, lazy and irresponsible” would fly (which it may, with some interviewers–they may find the honesty refreshing), simply say “there were a combination of factors. I’m not proud of the grades, but I feel I have grown and am a wholly different person than I was then,” or something to that effect.

  5. I love it when people apply with such low GPA’s. I might increase my chances with a 3.5-3.7. I’m applying to a very competitive school. If you score very high on the GRE, perhaps grades will matter less?

  6. Get thee to an admissions counselor! Besides the fact that you had a non-existent GPA, I wonder if having your degree from a CC is also a hindrance. Get your letters of recommendation as soon as you can, because its out of sight and out of mind. If retaking your flunked classes at the U is not an immediate option, you might try taking a Lit Class at your CC (get a good grade) and see if that instructor will write a letter for you. At least you will know if you can cut it at the undergrad level in Lit before you try to take on grad school, and you won’t be out the time and money.

  7. Yeah, you can do grad`school. It will take more time and the long way around approach, but it is possible. One of my former professors graduated her undergrad with a 1.02 and later she realized how important education is to her. She went back after about a year to redo her worst classes. She ended with a bachelor in communication and a 3.7 GPA. She now teaches at CC and is finishing her Phd. program.

    She likes to let her students know that she too bombed out in college, went back to CC and started over. She teaches full time and is pursuing her Phd at the University of Washington. So you can do it and it may be hard explaining those original low grades.

    But you also decided you want the education. You have taken steps since then to improve your life and work ethic. You are now graduating with in nursing. So it isn’t like you floated through college and sat on your butt whinning about life not being fair. You will benefit from continuing on, and if that means taking some course at a CC so be it. It will save you some cash and give you more recent success to show off.

    If in doubt about your ability to do it check with some of your professors. I bet at least a couple had a bad grade, or low GPA at some point and had to redo/refocus to get back on track. You can ask them how they did, and if they have advice for you going forward.

    Best of luck to you:)

  8. I just so happen to work at the registrar’s office at a law school and have to delve into student’s files multiple times a day. It is unfortunately (for this case) not in my job description to determine whether or not students are accepted but I do have to look through current student and alumni files and can give a little insight as to the types of student’s that were accepted.

    One thing you need to remember is that your grades aren’t everything. I know for a fact that the personal statement an interested applicant is required to write is a humongous factor in determining whether or not that student is accepted. It gives the student a chance to let the reviewer know about you personally. Now of course most of the student’s that have come through here are your typical high GPA, spotless record students that claimed they have wanted to be a lawyer since they were 2 years old. But, there are also those students with what I like to call “comeback stories”. These guys generally have had a spotty life in the past (whether academically, financially, or having to do with the law) that made them either fail classes, do jail time, drop out, or be kicked out of school for one reason or another.

    But then, they explain in their statement how they got their life back together, how they got it in their minds that they needed to work hard to succeed and then how they went on to prove it with obtaining amazing grades. You can usually tell by reading one of their files that these students know what hard work is and know how to push themselves towards achieving a goal.

    I must say that even though I don’t help with the admissions process, these student’s files always stand out among the rest just from their sheer determination to do better and prove they are ready to make something of themselves. And if something like this stands out to me it must also in the minds of those that decide your fate at a graduate school.

    You should try to keep in mind that:

    1. It is very possible to get accepted into a graduate school with having any sort of blemishes on your record as long as you push hard enough for it.

    2. A personal statement is usually the only time a reviewer has to get to know you as more than just a transcript with grades on it. It is your chance to show them that you are a hard-working goal-oriented person that has turned their life around for the better.

    I wish you the best of luck and hope things work out for you

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