Academic Life and Policies

Parents sometimes call with questions about their student’s academic program or concerns about their student’s progress. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions. We hope it will be helpful to you as you support your student at Grinnell.

Frequently Asked Questions

A typical course load is 16 credits (usually comprised of four 4-credit courses. A student’s first semester often consists of the First-Year Tutorial (a one-semester course required of all new students), plus one course from each of the three academic divisions: Humanities, Social Studies and Science. The minimum allowed course load is 12 credits and the maximum is 18 credits (with some exceptions).

During the summer, your student will have the opportunity to select a First-Year Tutorial. Registration for the remaining fall courses happens during New Student Orientation. Your student’s Tutorial professor also serves as their faculty adviser until your student declares a major.

We place high value on this advising relationship. The faculty adviser is not just someone to approve course registration. A student’s academic plan is a negotiation process between the student and the faculty adviser, weaving the student’s goals with the College’s vision of a liberal arts education. Both the adviser and the student have responsibility for creating a productive advising relationship. As such, we believe that advising should be done in person and is benefited over time by the instructor-student connection established in the tutorial. Through the tutorial, the adviser will get to know your student well – their academic and career goals, strengths and weaknesses as a student.

Encourage your student to read Academic Planning for New Students this summer, published by the Academic Advising office.

Grinnell has an individually-mentored curriculum. That means that we do not have general education or specific distribution requirements (for example, a certain number of credits or courses in Humanities, Social Studies, and Sciences). Still, we have requirements and expectations! In order to graduate students must complete 124 credits, including the First-Year Tutorial and a major (typically eight to ten courses, that is, 32 to 40 credits), and they are expected to complete a program of study that embraces the liberal arts.  

Students should plan to create an individualized academic program in conjunction with their adviser, which reflects both breadth and depth in the liberal arts. We encourage work in a variety of disciplines for the development of diverse skills – linguistic, literary, quantitative, artistic, and analytical.  

Your student should rely on Academic Planning for New Students, the Grinnell College Academic Catalog and the Student Handbook for specific major requirements, course prerequisites, and other academic policies.

Your student will be notified by the Office of the Registrar of pre-matriculation credit awarded for Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) of A Level scores. Generally, a score of four for AP and five for IB and a grade of B or better for A-levels, warrants credit but rules vary by department. Your student may see Grinnell’s AP Policy on the Registrar’s website or on the Registrar’s GrinnellShare site. Grinnell will accept a combined maximum of 24 credits of pre-matriculation (AP, IB, A-level, transfer) and post-matriculation (transfer) credits toward graduation.   A word of caution – if your student receives AP, IB, or A-level credit for a course, usually they will lose AP/IB/A-level credit for repeating the same course here. Occasionally a student will decide to forego the AP, IB, or A-level credit in order to start over in an introductory level course at Grinnell. The best rule of thumb on these matters: have your student consult with the Registrar and with their faculty adviser.

Students must declare a major during their fourth semester, prior to registering for their fifth semester. We do not encourage students to declare their major early, because we want them to explore as many fields as possible during their first two years at Grinnell.

We require it, so it’s likely. If students want to graduate early or extend their academic program into a ninth semester, they must apply, in writing through the Registrar, to the Committee on Academic Standing. (Have your student visit the Office of the Registrar’s GrinnellShare site.)

Your student.

We strongly encourage students to talk with their faculty members outside of class if they are experiencing difficulty. This usually requires a change in thinking and habit, since many students did not seek out their teachers in high school. We also urge students to contact their faculty advisers for support and counsel.  

In addition, the staff in the Academic Advising office are experts at working with students in academic difficulty. The Academic Advising office can help with study skills, time management strategies, interventions with faculty, and referrals to other academic resources (for tutoring) and to health services or personal counseling.  

Most academic problems can be resolved if a student seeks help in a timely way and engages responsibly in the process.

In addition to engaging faculty members for academic support, all students may use the many academic resource centers at Grinnell, including the Reading Lab, Writing Lab, Science Learning Center, Math Lab, Computer Science Learning Center, Language Learning Center, and the Library. Labs/offices are staffed by professionals and offer students one-on-one assistance through one-credit courses, appointments, and walk-in visits. The labs are not remedial in nature, and no stigma is attached to visits there.  

Free peer tutoring is available in every subject, too. Upper-class students are nominated as tutors by their major departments and are paid by the college. A student doesn’t need to be failing a course to use a tutor. Some students use tutors to move from a B to an A!

Your student may make the necessary adjustments to college with no difficulty, but if you sense that is not the case, advise your student to go directly to the Academic Advising office or to the Reading Lab where staff offer excellent evidence-based study strategies tailored to your student.  

Realistic expectations help. We expect students to study two to three hours outside of class for every hour they are in class. After all, being a student is their full-time job.

No, Academic Advising will contact your student and will notify their adviser. Students admitted to Grinnell have the ability to graduate. When students fall into difficulty, the reasons are as diverse as the students. We do everything we can to help students identify problems, accept responsibility for them, and actively engage in solving them. Should you have a concern about your student, we welcome your call, though federal regulations (with some exceptions) limit the extent to which we can share information about your student.

It happens, unfortunately. Sometimes life presents challenges and students need support to resolve crises without leaving school. If your student is having a personal or family problem, please urge them to contact the Academic Advising office or the Office of Student Assistance. We try very hard to create a plan so that students’ grades don’t suffer unduly while they are trying to resolve a personal difficulty. 

Sometimes a student is well advised to reduce their course load or to take a leave of absence from school to address a major problem. Students may contact the Academic Advising office to discuss emergency course withdrawals, personal leaves of absence or emergency leaves of absence

No. Please see the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for more information.

Matriculated students must complete a Transfer Course Approval Form (available from the Office of the Registrar’s GrinnellShare site) before they enroll in the summer or winter course. One caveat – students must receive permission of the department if they wish to use a transfer course to complete a requirement in the major. Generally, departments want major requirements to be completed at Grinnell. A second caveat – students may not repeat a course at another institution in which they received a D or F at Grinnell. Grinnell will accept a combined of 24 credits of AP, IB, A-level and transfer credits toward graduation. When in doubt, your student should contact the Office of the Registrar.

Students who study abroad take an academic leave (for approved off-campus study), but two other types of leaves of absence are available to students. Students experiencing medical difficulties may apply for an emergency leave of absence by contacting the Dean for Student Success and Academic Advising. Medical documentation is required for the leave of absence and again before the student returns to school.  

Some students benefit a great deal from taking a semester or two of personal leave sometime during college. They may suffer from a lack of motivation, they may be uncertain of their career goals and want a semester or two to explore them, or they may have a unique opportunity to work or travel. A student may apply for a personal leave by contacting Academic Advising. A personal leave reserves their place at the college for one or two semesters.

If you would like to talk with someone at the College about your student’s academic situation, feel free to call Academic Advising, though federal regulations (with some exception) limit the extent to which we can share information about your student. We do believe that your most important source of information about your student’s progress is your student, and we hope that you will foster open and honest communication with your student about their academic work.

Unfortunately, no. However, your student will be assigned their own adviser from the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) upon arrival at Grinnell to help them assess their values, strengths, and interests; connect them with alumni and others to build a professional network; explore professional, personal, and civic options; and engage in experiential learning experiences to gain skills to prepare them for life after Grinnell. Although the CLS resources and programs are available to all students, it is the responsibility of your student to take advantage to reap the short-and long-term benefits. CLS advisers are here for your student through every step of their professional, personal, and civic development, so that your student (and you!) can feel confident with their initial plan to embark on a purposeful life following graduation.

We hope that your student will ask questions of everyone on campus. People are our best resources at Grinnell. In addition, three important written sources of information regarding academic policies are the Academic Planning for New Students, the Student Handbook and the Grinnell College Academic Catalog, all of which are available online. These “books” are not exactly exciting bedtime reading, but your student is responsible for knowing their content. They should lead students directly to answers to most academic questions or helpful people to consult with.

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