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Graduate grades harmful?


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I apologize for another GPA post, but I've looked through the earlier ones and notice that they relate to undergrad GPA. My question relates to a graduate GPA.

I'm currently in an MA program with intention to enroll in a PhD program in creative writing. My undergraduate GPA was stellar, a 3.94 but I am unnaturally close to getting a C in a class during my first semester. I am working on attempting to bring it up before the end of the semester, but I'm looking at a worse case scenario.

So my question is, would one C (and if I manage to keep a 3.5 or higher GPA aside from this class) hurt my chances of getting into a PhD program? Or, do programs look at the overall GPA? My GRE isn't stellar, but it's well above the minimum that is needed for the schools I'm interested in.

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Listen, it's not going to help but it's by far not going to be what decides whether or not you get accepted. I assume that for creative writing the writing sample is crucial, and like any in other application - so are the SOP and LORs. One low grade won't break the deal, especially since your grades are otherwise consistently high. I assume you'll get at least one LOR from someone at your current school; they will surely praise your writing skills and research abilities in a way that will offset any doubt your one low grade could have possibly raised.

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My gut instinct is that the GPA isn't very important for creative writing programs. You might want to check this with your own professors. However, a C can be problematic. At my program (albeit a PhD in English, not an MFA), anything in the B range at the graduate level is a red flag. I've heard (though I don't know firsthand) that some international programs have far stricter grading standards and lower grades from those schools might be viewed more leniently. But most PhD programs in my field read your graduate transcripts in this manner:

A = you're performing as expected (ie, at a high level in graduate school)

B = you're slipping up, but still did the work. Often a red flag.

C = you're doing terribly and might be on academic probation. (at my program--though this isn't universally true--"C" isn't sufficient to pass the class).

You might want to talk to your DGS (or simply gossip with your peers) to get a sense of the range of grades, and what those grades actually mean.

How long is your MFA program? Are you applying this year? I'd highly discourage you from doing so, even if you'll be done with your program by this coming summer. It takes time (and training, and experience) for your writing to "season"--if you send out applications this fall, you might not have the change to let that "seasoning" pay off in your writing sample. And from what I know, the writing sample(s) basically IS your application for creative writing.

If you can, wait until you have a few more semester's worth of coursework to apply. If you do well in future classes, it should help tp mitigate that grade--or at least signal that you've learned from that experience.

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