Chapter 5 - Courses, Credits, and Grading

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5.1 - Courses and Credits

5.1.1 Graduate Courses

At Iowa State University, graduate courses are taught by members of the graduate faculty and are given numbers in the 500’s or 600’s. As a general rule, 500-level courses are entry level or masters level offerings, while 600-level are highly specialized and typically intended for Ph.D. level study.

5.1.2 Undergraduate Courses on Program of Study

  • With POS-committee approval, graduate students will be permitted to use undergraduate classes from both within and outside of their majors on POS forms.
  • No 100- or 200-level classes may be used, but all 300- and 400-level classes at Iowa State (not undergraduate classes from other institutions) will be eligible.
  • Up to 15 credits from 300- and 400-level courses may be used on a POSC form, with a maximum of 6 credits at the 300 level.
  • For graduate students who enter degree programs in spring semester of 2018 and thereafter, a limit of 9 credits at the undergraduate level will be in effect, with a limit of 3 credits at the 300 level.   
  • If a 300-level class is used, it must be from outside of the student’s major.

Please note:

  • Graduate students who take undergraduate classes are not required to do extra work or to be exposed to material more advanced than what is taught to undergraduates.
  • In contrast, dual-listed courses (offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level) are required to expect more of graduate students who enroll at the 500 level.

Individual graduate programs may prohibit the use of undergraduate classes or may make the use of undergraduate classes more restrictive than does the university-wide policy.

5.1.3 Audited Courses

Auditing a course means taking it without receiving formal credit. (For more information, see Chapter 2.)

5.1.4 Creative Component Credits

Credits for a special report, research project, or other independent work designated as a creative component under the nonthesis master’s degree option are assigned under the course number 599. A minimum of two credit hours is required for a creative component. These credits are not calculated in the student’s GPA.

5.1.5 Dual-Listed Undergraduate and Graduate Courses

Dual-listed courses permit undergraduate and graduate students to be in the same class, but to receive credit under two different course numbers. The following requirements apply:

  • Credit in the graduate course is not available to students who have previously received credit in the corresponding undergraduate course.
  • Both graduates and undergraduates must receive the same amount of credit for the course, but additional work is required of all graduate students taking the course under the graduate-level course number. This extra work may take the form of additional reading, projects, examinations, or other assignments as determined by the instructor.
  • The instructor must be a member of the graduate faculty or a graduate lecturer.
  • Each dual-listed course is designated by the words “dual listed with” in the ISU Catalog. The student’s official transcript of credits, both graduate and undergraduate, does not identify dual-listed courses as such.
  • The number of dual-listed course credits that may be used to meet the requirement for an advanced degree may be limited.

Program procedures for offering dual-listed-courses are included in Appendix F.

5.1.6 Repeated Courses

A designated repeated course is one that is retaken, but no significant change in content has occurred. If a course is repeated, the permanent record will show the grade on the initial attempt as well as grades received on subsequent attempts. However, only the most recent grade will be used in computing a student’s cumulative grade-point average. Normally, seminars, special topics, or courses that have changed substantially in content are not processed as designated repeats.

Courses should be repeated as soon as possible, preferably within three semesters in residence. The Office of the Registrar will process the repeat automatically, unless the department/program name, course number, and/or credits have changed, or unless the course was originally taken under the quarter system. In these specific instances, a “Designation of Repeated Courses” form, available in department offices, must be completed and submitted to the Office of the Registrar.

Normally only one repetition of any single course is permitted; not more than four different courses used for graduate credit may be repeated. Decisions in each case lie within the province of a student’s POS committee and the Dean of the Graduate College. Credit for any course that is repeated can be counted only once on a POS.

5.1.7 R-Credit Courses

No credit is given in these courses. Only S/F grading is allowed for 500/600-level R-credit courses.

5.1.8 Research Credits

Credits for research for the purpose of completing a thesis or dissertation are assigned under the course number 699. These credits are not calculated in the student’s GPA. A minimum of three semester credits is required for a thesis.

5.1.9 Nondegree Undergraduate (Special) Student Admission Status

A person classified as a nondegree undergraduate (special) student is considered an undergraduate and may not use courses taken under that status in a graduate degree program. A student who has received the baccalaureate degree must register as a graduate student if he/she is to receive graduate credit for courses.

5.1.10 Special Topics or Independent Study Course Credit

Credits for independent study with a faculty member by an individual student or for a small group studying a specialized area are assigned under the course number 590.

5.1.11 Testing-Out Credits

Graduate students may receive graduate course credit by special examination (testing out of a course) if they have sufficient preparation in the subject matter and they have the instructor’s approval. Application for special examination is made to the program and requires approval by the program director or chair/head of the department offering the course. For an official test out, a fee is paid, successful completion of a special examination is reported as a T, and the course credit is added to the university total.

5.1.12 Transfer of Graduate Credits

Only under certain conditions and only with the approval of a student’s POS committee and the Graduate College, can graduate credits with a B grade or better earned as a graduate student at another institution be transferred to ISU (see Chapter 6 for more information).

5.1.13 Workshops and Short Course Credit

Workshops and short courses involving at least 15 class contact hours, but less than eight days of course work may carry no more than one graduate credit.

5.2 - Grading

Grades are the permanent official record of a student’s academic performance. Iowa State uses A through F grading for most courses. S, P, and NP grades are given in some courses. The standard four-point scale is used to calculate a grade point average (see table below).

5.2.1 Grade Point Average (GPA)

All courses (even if they are undergraduate courses) taken as a graduate student will be calculated into the graduate GPA. The GPA is determined by dividing the number of grade points earned by the total number of ISU cumulative hours. The grade given when an Incomplete (I) is resolved is figured into the cumulative grade point average, but not into a particular semester’s average. Marks of I, S, P, NP, T, and X are not counted in the grade point average; a mark of F (even if taken S/F) is counted in the grade point average. Creative Component/Research (599 and 699) credits are not used in the calculation of the GPA. In the case of repeated courses, only the grade achieved the last time the course is taken is used in computing the grade point average.

5.2.2 Grading Research and Creative Component Credits

Creative Component/Research credits may be awarded an A, B, C, D, I, S, or F. Plus and minus grades are optional. These credits are not calculated in a student’s GPA.

5.2.3 Grievances about Grades

A graduate student, who feels that a course grade has been unjustly assigned, and whose attempts to resolve the matter with the instructor have failed, may appeal through the grievance procedure described in Chapter 9.

5.2.4 Pass (P)/Not Pass (NP) Course Credit

Pass/Not Pass courses are those that a student, with the approval of the major professor, may take for personal enrichment, but not for satisfying prerequisites or deficiencies in the undergraduate background.

P/NP courses may not be used in a POS, nor do P/NP marks contribute to the student’s GPA. Full credit for P/NP courses is used in calculating tuition assessment and credit load limitations.

Courses to be taken P/NP should be added on a regular graded basis through the Web-based AccessPlus registration system. To change a course to P/NP, the student must obtain the signature of his or her major professor in the Pass/Not Pass approval section of the “Request for Schedule Change or Restriction Waiver” form and the signature of the graduate classification officer (Graduate College, 1137 Pearson Hall). The changes must then be processed at the Student Scheduling Office (10 Enrollment Services Center).

5.2.5 Satisfactory/Fail (S/F) Grading

S/F grading is not the same as P/NP grading. S/F grading is by instructor option; all students in a particular course receive S/F grading. P/NP grading is generally a student option. Additionally, a P mark is equivalent to at least a D- grade whereas an S mark is equivalent to at least a B grade at the graduate level. No special registration procedures are required for S/F grading. An S mark in a course taken S/F is not counted in the grade point average, but an F mark in a course taken S/F is counted in the grade point average and is equivalent to an F in a regularly graded (A-F) course. No more than 20 percent of the total credits (excluding creative component, thesis, or dissertation research) in the program of study may be earned on an S/F basis.

S/F grading may be used only for approved courses offered as seminars, symposia, workshops, special topics, and research. Programs must submit requests for S/F grading to the Dean of the Graduate College. The Graduate College Curriculum and Catalog Committee reviews and approves or rejects all S/F courses.

5.2.6 Probation and Academic Standing

If a graduate student does not maintain a cumulative 3.00 grade point average on all course work taken, exclusive of research credit, he or she may be placed on academic probation by the Dean of the Graduate College. Grades earned by graduate students in undergraduate courses are included in the calculation of the grade point average. Academic probation judgments are made on the basis of grades in course work only.

New, first-term, degree-seeking graduate students who fall below a 3.00 GPA at the end of their first semester at Iowa State University will be given a one term grace period to bring their grades back to a 3.00 GPA.  These students will receive a warning letter from the Graduate College.

Students on probation:

  • will have a hold placed on future registrations,
  • will not normally receive a Graduate College tuition scholarship, if appointed to an assistantship,
  • will not be admitted to candidacy for a degree if they are a doctoral student,
  • will be required before registration each term to undergo a review of their record and have the program recommend in writing if the Graduate College should permit further registration, and
  • must, before graduation is approved, complete all courses listed on the program of study with a minimum grade of C and have achieved a 3.00 GPA or greater.

The Grading Notation System
Grades and Marks Used for Graduate Students (+ and - are optional)

Grade/Mark Points/ Credits Performance Description/Comments
A 4.00 Superior
A- 3.67  
B+ 3.33  
B 3.00 Satisfactory
B- 2.67  
C+ 2.33  
C 2.00 Minimum grade acceptable for courses on the POS.
C- 1.67 Not used on the POS.
D+ 1.33 Not used on the POS.
D 1.00 Not used on the POS.
D- .67 Lowest passing grade in courses, not used on POS.
F 0.00 Not satisfactorily completed, not allowed on the POS, but is included in the GPA. Typically must be repeated; only with extenuating circumstances can a student graduate with an F or NP on the permanent record, regardless of whether the course is used on the POS. The Dean of the Graduate College may consider requests from POS committees to allow graduation with an F on the permanent record only if the course is not on the POS, the course is unrelated to the student’s scholarly discipline and thesis/dissertation topic, and the cumulative GPA is 3.00 or higher. An F mark in a course taken S/F is counted in the grade point average and is equivalent to an F in a regularly graded (A-F) course.
I   If a student is unable to complete the course work by the end of the term for reasons that the instructor thinks are legitimate, a mark of I (Incomplete) may be assigned because a grade has not yet been earned. This must be reported on the “Incomplete-Mark Report” form, which includes the reason for the I and requirements for resolving it. This report should be signed by both the instructor and student.
Repeating a course does not resolve an Incomplete. To resolve an Incomplete, the student must fulfill the requirements as described on the “Incomplete-Mark Report” form. After the student has met these requirements, the instructor submits a "Grade Report to the Registrar” to resolve the incomplete. That new grade will appear on a student’s record the term that it is submitted. The "I" mark will remain on the student’s transcript. A mark of I incurred fall 98 and after will automatically change to a grade of F after one calendar year (whether or not the student was enrolled during the period). I marks in courses numbered 599 or 699 will not automatically change to an F. For students graduating, all incompletes must be resolved prior to completing the Graduate Student Approval Form.
Only with extenuating circumstances is a student allowed to graduate with an incomplete on the permanent record. The major professor must make a written request to the Dean of the Graduate College explaining those circumstances. The Registrar’s Office will remove a student from the graduation list if he/she receives an incomplete for the term of graduation.
S   Satisfactory completion (figured in total hours earned but not in grade point average).
P   Passing grade under the P/NP system (figured in total hours earned but not in grade point average).
NP   Not passed under the P/NP system (not counted in total hours earned but not in grade point average).
T   Test out with credit obtained by special examination.
X   Course dropped after first week of the semester.