Pasadena City College

College Transfer Q&A: I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester. Do I Still Have a Shot at Transferring?

Pasadena City College


I’ve just finished my first year of college, and I’m looking to transfer, either as a sophomore in the spring semester or a junior in the following fall semester. The problem is that I did really poorly my first semester. I didn’t get good grades. But in my second semester, I worked really hard to get good grades, and I’ve managed to really pull up my GPA. I’m still worried about my first semester, though. Do I have a shot at transferring?


It’s quite common for students to not do so well their first year of college: Some people get homesickness, some people don’t realize that college is much more demanding than high school, and others get distracted by parties and other social activities. However, that bad, first semester does not necessarily have to scar your academic record for life. Getting As across the board, or very close to straight As, in subsequent semesters will boost your GPA and prove to the college that you want to transfer to that you’re certainly able to do well in college, despite your first semester mishap. Here are some success stories to inspire you:

Story 1: A student received a 3.0 his first semester during his freshman year, but worked really hard to get a 3.7 the second semester. He continued on that track, earning a 3.9 GPA his first semester of sophomore year. He was able to transfer to his dream school, the College of William & Mary.

Story 2: A student had a “pitiful” first semester. After not getting into the college of her choice, she did not work hard at the college she ended up going to. She got a 3.0 that first semester. However, she turned around and pumped herself up after reminding herself of her desire to succeed. She got a 4.0 each semester for the next three semesters, for a cumulative GPA of 3.75. She’s transferring to NYU.

Story 3: This student, like many others, thought that college was going to be easy, and therefore, was unmotivated his first semester at a community college. He actually managed to get straight Fs in the four classes he took. He decided to take time off, and after two years, returned to the same school and got mostly As. However, his cumulative GPA was still not great because of that first semester of Fs. He heard from a counselor that he could try to apply for an academic renewal. He was able to get an academic renewal, which, in his case, removed the first semester of his grades from being counted toward his GPA. Now, his GPA is a 3.7 and he will be transferring to one of the University of California (UC) campuses.

Academic Renewal Policies

The third story brought up an interesting concept: What exactly is an academic renewal? Different colleges/universities have different policies, but just as an example, let’s look at the academic renewal policy at Pasadena City College, a major community college in southern California that has transfer agreement policies with many of the UC campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Davis.  Here’s the explanation of an academic renewal from the Pasadena City College website:

The purpose of Academic Renewal (Sections 55764 and 55765 of the California Code of Regulations) is to disregard students’ previously recorded substandard academic performance when such work does not reflect current demonstrated ability. As a consequence, Academic Renewal allows students the benefits of their current level of ability and performance and does not permanently penalize them for poor performance in the past. Academic Renewal encourages students to continue their efforts toward their educational objectives when the weight of previously recorded substandard work would otherwise make the achievement of those objectives unlikely.

There are many stipulations, but the point is to give you a fair second chance if you really deserve one. This system doesn’t mean that you get to slack off for a semester and then reverse time by signing up for an academic renewal. You have to apply for an academic renewal, and you may or may not get it. Furthermore, in the case of the Pasadena City College, for example, even if you do get an academic renewal, the schools that you’re applying to transfer to might not accept it:

Academic Renewal by Pasadena City College does not guarantee that other institutions outside of the district will approve such action. This determination will be made by the respective transfer institutions.

Of course, try to avoid putting yourself in a situation in which you would need to apply for an academic renewal. However, if you really need to apply for one, it’s there for you to give it a try.

Concluding Remarks

Having a first bad semester doesn’t mean that your academic reputation is scarred forever. There are ways that you can go above and beyond to make up for a less than perfect first semester. Yes, you have a shot at transferring.

(Photo: Herr Hans Gruber)


13 responses to “College Transfer Q&A: I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester. Do I Still Have a Shot at Transferring?”

  1. J.C. Avatar

    There’s too much of a focus on transferring to universities; information and a transfer rate chart for top liberal arts colleges would be helpful. Thanks

    1. Chris Goodmacher Avatar

      Thanks for the comment! Agreed. We’ve focused on universities because there’s just so many more students interested in them and applying to them, but we’re working on putting together more data and information on transferring to LACs.

      In fact, right we’re trying to do a comprehensive set of transfer-specific data for every college in the country (which is what has been occupying way too much of my time these days).

  2. S.H. Avatar

    Thank you for the wonderful advice (and the hope :))! My story parallels Story 2’s beginning, and I was wondering if you could give me a few quick pointers about what to do in the future:

    I was one of the better students at my high school (an average public one at that) for three years, taking as many AP’s and honors courses as I could. I did decently for the first half of my senior year, but then senioritis really kicked in during the second half. While my GPA still remained near the top, I was no longer in the top 1%.

    I just completed my first semester at a university. However, because of a combination of not liking the school, underestimating the difficulty of courses, homesickness, and laziness, I did not do as well as I would have liked and got a 3.5 GPA. Clearly, I am very frustrated at myself, haha, and am aiming to do much better second semester. However, my classes will be difficult, and I cannot guarantee a 3.9-4.0.

    Clearly, my academic performance and GPA (the most important factor in transfer admissions) have decreased since high school, downgrading my competitiveness. On top of that, I am Asian American and standards are raised for applicants of my race.

    So where should I go from here? Should I wait to transfer as a junior, or should I still try transferring as a sophomore?

    I apologize for the lengthy sob story lol, but thank you so much! 🙂

    1. R Avatar

      This is exactly the situation I am in now. I’d be curious to know what you did. Could you share some much needed advice?

  3. Lan Ngo Avatar
    Lan Ngo

    Depending on which schools you want to apply to transfer to, it might not be a bad idea to consider applying as a junior transfer. However, I highly suggest that you work to guarantee yourself that you will get a 4.0 in the following semesters. Consider spreading out the difficult courses so that you’re not taking all the difficult courses in one semester.

    1. michaela484 Avatar

      If I may, I would like to address our questions to Lan! My daughter is out of the country right now on a very busy Study Abroad schedule; in the meantime, I’m asking about some of her concerns by proxy first. Her question is actually about Academic Renewal and I realize this Discussion might not be the place to ask it and I apologize for that! I am a parent and hopefully being a member of *#+* generation excuses my wayward post and present breach of e Forum etiquette! I googled Academic Renewal, followed some links, and found Lan’s great article on the topic. However, I tried my best to navigate the site, but can’t figure out how to direct a question to Lan specifically on the subject! So I’m doing what I thought might be the best way to get her attention: post a reply to this “thread.” I would very much appreciate your kind guidance and direction, and am certainly hoping for your insights into our area of concern! Thank you in advance and, again, my apologies! I’m thinking I should sign: Clueless! (Btw, this request is rather time sensitive since the deadline for applications to the college (UC) where my daughter intends to transfer is November 30!)

  4. Oliver Avatar

    How do colleges view upward trends, particularly Ivies and other top schools? I’m currently a sophomore preparing to transfer, and I didn’t do so well my first semester. My cumalitive GPA is a 3.87, but my first semester I had a 3.65 (mix of As, A-s, and B+s) and my subsequent semesters I have managed a 4.0. I’m hoping to continue this trend. My main concern is about individual grades. My first semester, I recieved a B+s and A-s in math and economics courses even though I am a Math and Econ major. Since then, I have took upper level Math and Econ courses, and I received As in them. Is there any reason to worry about those initial low grades?


    1. Lan Ngo Avatar
      Lan Ngo

      This upward trend is great, especially because your A’s in the upper-division courses show that you have what it takes to excel in your major. Make sure to highlight this trend, either in your Common Application “why transfer” essay or in the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application.

      1. Oliver Avatar

        Should I mention it along the lines of turning a weakness into a strength? My grades overall are better compared to my HS grades (with the exception of the first semester).

        1. Lan Ngo Avatar
          Lan Ngo

          I don’t think it’s necessary to mention any “weaknesses”. Also, I don’t think you need to mention high school because by the time you submit your applications, you’ll already be approximately 1.5 years out of high school. Your time in college is much more important.

    2. Chris Goodmacher Avatar

      You’re doing exactly the right thing. We’ve found from counseling students that the positive effect of an upward trend is really, really strong and, especially in your case, you can’t get higher than 4.0. Keep it up!

  5. Martin Avatar

    How much of a red flag is C+? I’m a student looking to transfer to either Michigan, UVa, or NYU. I was previously accepted to NYU, but attended my current state flagship due to finances. I’m double majoring in math and physics. I’ve done well in all my math classes- it’s my primary major, but I did receive a B- and C+ in two of my physics classes (I’ve took 6 in total). These grades were in physics classes that were 300 and 400 level, and I definitely underestimated the workload. I did take two 400 level physics classes after these two, and received As in both them. I took the C+ and B- classes during my second semester. Due to these classes, my second semester gpa was a 3.01. My first semester was a 3.85, my second a 3.01, and my third semester I just finished was a 4.0. My cumulative is a 3.64. How much will the C+ and B- hurt? I’ve took more difficult courses in both majors and done well. I have two professors from both departments who are willing to write my recs as well. I also ended being a physics tutor to improve my understanding of the subject. I’ve been taking 18-20 credits a semester, i.e. 5 classes and 1 seminar. I’m active on campus, an officer for two clubs, and do research as well. Do I still have a shot?

  6. micahela484 Avatar

    Dear Lan: (I figured it out! This is, in fact, the forum to ask my question to you on Academic Renewal (AR) because the article does touch on it at the end. I just got sidetracked/confused/disoriented by the title and the comments–none on AR. Pls disregard/delete my first posted reply!)

    To recap, my daughter is on a hectic Study Abroad schedule at present so, meantime, I’m asking about some of her concerns by proxy first. I will keep it short and simple this time and ask, first of all, what you might know about NYU and their Academic Renewal (AR) Policy, if any. For my daughter, she will be seeking to get Academic Renewal from NYU to improve her GPA for possible transfer to UCLA (we live in LA and know for sure the school has AR). We have gone to the NYU website, but unfortunately have not found any relevant links. To follow up, is it an either/or proposition, by which I mean: is it a case of NYU, or any school for that matter, either participates in Academic Renewal or not? In this scenario, I have thought of talking to school officials, particularly the Dean of the CAS whom I have spoken to in the past and was very approachable, if that would be helpful.

    My daughter attended NYU after HS graduation in 2005 but took a pro-longed medical leave of absence from the College of Arts & Science in 2009. When her condition improved, she enrolled at Pasadena Community College in 2012, has gotten straight A’s & has been invited to its Honors Program. Needless to say her NYU grades were very spotty as a result of her health challenges which she has subsequently overcome.

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