Jul 17, 2024  
2019 - 2020 Academic Catalog 
2019 - 2020 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Academic Policies

Requirements for Graduation

Grinnell College’s requirements for graduation and most important academic regulations are contained in this section. More information on academic policies and procedures can be found in the Student Handbook.


All entering first-year students are required to take the tutorial. The previous work of transfer students is evaluated for possible exemption from the tutorial requirement; third-year transfers are automatically exempted. Students select a tutorial from the list of those to be offered each year (see Tutorials ).

The tutorial is graded on an “A” through “F” basis with no S/D/F option. A student must complete the tutorial with a grade of “C” or higher to meet the tutorial graduation requirement and to be eligible to enroll in individual study work (Plus-2, 297, 299, 387, 397, 399, and 499) and internships (300). Any student earning a grade of “D” or “F” in the tutorial will be reviewed by the Committee on Academic Standing and will minimally receive a warning. Additionally, a student earning a grade of “D” or “F” in the tutorial will be required to complete an appropriate course determined by an Associate Dean of the College and the Dean of Student Success and Academic Advising in order to fulfill the tutorial requirement. This course must be completed with a grade of “C” or higher during his/her/hir next semester at Grinnell. The designated replacement course for the tutorial also has no S/D/F grading option. After successful completion of the tutorial replacement course, the student will be eligible for individual study work.

The Major Field

Satisfactory completion of a major field is required. Most departmental programs require a minimum of 32 credits, but may include more. At the department’s discretion, up to 8 credits from related fields (cognates) may be counted toward the major. The requirements for each major program are listed in the Academic Departments, Majors and Concentrations  section of this catalog. Academic departments typically expect that the majority of courses constituting the major, and all required courses, will be completed at Grinnell.

In the case of a second or “double” major, no credits are allowed to be shared with the other major. When a concentration and a major are related, up to 8 credits of work included in a student’s major may also be counted toward the concentration. In the case of second or “double” concentration, no credits are allowed to be shared with the other concentration. Only up to 8 credits total may be shared between all majors and all concentrations.

A course in the student’s major field cannot be elected for grading on the “S/D/F” basis. Any course elected for such grading before the student’s declaration of a major or concentration does not count toward the minimum credit requirement for the major or concentration.

A student declares a major prior to preregistration for the fifth semester (typically during the spring semester of the second year) and is held to all major requirements in effect at the time of declaration. The head of the department in which the major is declared, or a designated colleague, then becomes the student’s adviser. Most students choose a single departmental or interdepartmental major, however, a student may be permitted a second major or may arrange a special program as an independent major.

Since the completion of a major is one of the requirements for graduation, waiving any of the specifications of the major (required courses or course distributions) must be first approved by the department. Transfer courses may be counted towards the completion of the major if they are approved by the department and the Office of the Registrar has been officially notified. A major typically cannot be completed out of residence.

Total Credits Required for Graduation 

To be eligible for graduation, a student must have at least 124 credits, a 2.00 cumulative grade point average (GPA), and must have satisfactorily completed the tutorial; a departmental, interdepartmental, or independent major; and the College residency requirement. The following criteria apply:

Credit Limits

The maximum credits that can be included in the 124 credits are listed below:

  • 48 credits in any one department (For the purposes of this requirement, Chinese and Japanese and Studio Art & Art History credits are to be considered as belonging to separate departments.)
  • 92 credits in any one division
  • 8 practica credits with no more than 4 credits in Physical Education PHE 100  or PHE 101  
    Practica credits include: MUS 101 , PHE 100 , PHE 101 , THD 100 , THD 205  
  • 16 credits in performance
    Performance credits include: MUS 120 , MUS 122 , MUS 220 , MUS 220 , MUS 320 MUS 420 , THD 104 , and  THD 204  
  • 6 credits in music practica or studio instruction (MUS 101 , MUS 120 , MUS 122 , MUS 220 , MUS 221 , MUS 320 , and MUS 420 ) in any one semester
  • 12 credits of independent study work (Plus-2, 297, 299, 387, 397, 399, and 499) in one department 
  • 8 credits of internship study (300)
  • 16 credits of “D” grades

Other Limits:

No credit with a grade below “C” may count toward the satisfaction of any requirement for a major or a concentration. (This includes all extra-departmental and cognate courses.) “C-” is considered a grade below “C.”

College Residence Requirement

Because a residential college seeks to create an environment in which students and faculty benefit from the exchange of insights, ideas, and experiences, a residence requirement provides adequate time for such an exchange for the student’s development both inside and outside the classroom. Contemplative study, maturation, and time for reading and discussion in the college community all are considered important to a student’s development.

All students are expected to complete eight college semesters at the minimum semester course load, a specified number of which must be in residence at Grinnell. (More than the minimum semester course load is required to maintain normal scholarly progress. See the Academic Review section of the Student Handbook.) Students who enter Grinnell as first-semester first-year students or who transfer to Grinnell as second-semester first-year students are required to complete at least six semesters at the minimum semester course load in residence at Grinnell. (See the table below.) One semester of approved off-campus study may count toward the six- semester residency requirement.

Transfer students who enter as first-semester second-year students, as second-semester second-year students, or as third-year students must complete at least four semesters at the minimum semester course load in residence at Grinnell. The only off-campus programs that can be counted toward residency for second-year and third-year transfer students are those operated by Grinnell College: the Grinnell-in-London and Grinnell-in-Washington programs. (See the table below.)

# of Semesters to Complete at Grinnell Number of Off-Campus Study
Semesters Permitted
4 1 Must be GIL or GIW off campus study
5 2 1 OCS and 1 GIL or GIW
6 2 2 OCS or 1 OCS and 1 GIL or GIW
7 2 2 OCS or 1 OCS and 1 GIL or GIW
8 2 2 OCS or 1 OCS and 1 GIL or GIW
OCS = Off campus study, GIL/GIW are Grinnell sponsored OCS

If an eighth-semester student in good academic standing leaves the College with eight or fewer non-major credits to complete toward the degree, these credits may be completed at another accredited college or university, as long as the minimum residency credit requirement has been met and prior approval has been granted by the student’s adviser and the registrar. Degrees are not conferred beyond three years after the date a student leaves Grinnell.

Accelerated or Extended Graduation

Students who enter Grinnell as first-semester first-year students may develop degree programs of six or seven semesters at the minimum semester course load. The major adviser and the Committee on Academic Standing must approve the student’s plan for accelerated graduation. The Application for Accelerated Graduation may be obtained from the Office of the Registrar. In completing the application, students should consult the “Elements of a Liberal Education”  section of this catalog. A completed application must be submitted no later than Friday of the first full week of classes of the semester proposed for graduation. However, it is in a student’s interest to apply for accelerated graduation no later than the time of registration two semesters prior to the expected date of accelerated graduation so that the student has two semesters in which to address any academic deficiencies identified by the Committee on Academic Standing. Students may graduate after six or seven semesters if they have satisfied requirements for the degree, including the requirements for major, residence, and total credits, and if they have demonstrated a commitment to a strong program of liberal education, normally including three four-credit courses in each of the three major divisions of the College. The last full semester of work before graduation must be completed at Grinnell, except for students participating in Cooperative Programs  leading to professional degrees.

The class standing of a student who is attempting to follow an approved accelerated program to graduate in fewer than eight semesters is not reclassified forward on the basis of credits earned until his/her/hir final semester. The credits necessary to remain in good academic standing are determined by a student’s actual class status, not by the accelerated program they are attempting.

Extended Graduation/Ninth Semester

All students are expected to complete their academic programs within eight semesters at the minimum term course load. Some students may be permitted to take more time. Examples would include students with disabilities that prevent them from carrying a full course load or students who have fallen behind normal scholarly progress. In all cases of extended study, the student must secure prior approval from the Committee on Academic Standing. The Committee on Academic Standing will review such requests in consultation with appropriate administrative offices.

The College reserves the right to refuse college housing to students beyond eight semesters, and the College will not provide its own aid funds to students who exceed eight semesters of college residence.

Graduation with Honors

Each department recommends for graduation with honors those senior majors who have clearly distinguished themselves within their major field of study. In order to qualify for recommendation, a student must, after the semester prior to graduation (typically after the seventh semester, except in the case of accelerated graduation), have achieved at least a 3.50 grade point average in the major field and a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.40. Students found responsible for academic dishonesty are not eligible for honors, except students who receive a less-than-typical outcome for the offense. The required seven semesters of study to qualify for honors need not all be completed at Grinnell; however, only credits completed at Grinnell, Grinnell-in-London, and Grinnell-in-Washington, D.C. and will be used in determining grade point eligibility.

These are minimum, College-wide criteria for honors. Students should consult the individual department listings in the Grinnell College Academic Catalog for departmental minimum criteria for honors and may consult with the chair of the major department for further clarification, if needed. Honors are awarded for graduation based on the requirements published in the Academic Catalog at the time of graduation, not at the time in which the student declares their major.

Commencement Participation

Students may participate in only one Commencement program. Students who plan to graduate in December are typically included in the Commencement program the following May. Some December graduates, however, may wish to participate in the Commencement program immediately preceding their final semester. Students who have remained in good academic standing the previous two semesters, and who can reasonably complete all requirements by the end of the following December may be allowed to participate in Commencement with approval from the Registrar. These students will not receive a diploma until after their degree has been conferred.

Course Load

The minimum course load for degree-seeking students is 12 credits per semester. However, normal scholarly progress for students expecting to graduate from Grinnell in eight semesters requires a course load of 16 credits per semester.

Approval from the Office of the Registrar is required to carry a semester course load of more than 18 credits. Students registered for more than 18 credits per term are billed the per credit rate  for the credits in excess of 18. Musical group performance, studio instruction in music, physical education activities, and varsity sports (MUS 101, MUS 120, MUS 122, MUS 220, MUS 221, MUS 320, MUS 420, PHE 100, and PHE 101) are not counted when determining credits in excess of 18.

Approval from the Office of the Registrar is required for degree-seeking students to carry a semester course load of less than the 12 credit minimum. In addition, the student should consult with the Dean for Student Success and Academic Advising to gain an understanding of the impacts of carrying less than the minimum course load in any given semester. Grinnell expects degree-seeking students to maintain a minimum of 8 credits, unless they are enrolled in a ninth semester.

The College strives to provide equal access for students with disabilities. Students seeking to carry a course load of fewer than 12 credits per semester as the result of a documented disability or medical condition should contact the Coordinator of Disability Resources to inquire about the accommodation process. 

Regardless of individual semester course load, full tuition will be charged for the first eight semesters. Institutional financial aid is calculated based on minimum course load. Students enrolling for fewer than 12 credits in a semester will have federal and state financial aid adjusted according to the relevant federal and state regulations. Students are typically only eligible for eight semesters of institutional aid from Grinnell, regardless of individual semester course load.

Grades and Grading System

Grading System

Grinnell uses the following grading system:

Grade Definition Grade Points
 A    Excellent 4.00
 A-    Excellent 3.67
 B+    Good 3.33
 B    Good 3.00
 B-    Good 2.67
 C+    Satisfactory 2.33
 C    Satisfactory 2.00
 D    Passing 1.00
 F    Failing 0.00
 S    Satisfactory (A-C without grade point value) 
 AU    Audit 
 I    Incomplete 
 W    Withdrawn without credit or academic penalty 
 NGR    No grade reported by instructor. 

All grades are entered on a student’s permanent transcript.

Grades are reported to students, their faculty advisers, and the vice-president for student affairs at the end of each semester. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (often referred to as the “Buckley Amendment”), the College has a responsibility to maintain the privacy of academic records. Accordingly, the record of grades is only accessible on line via password-protected access to WebAdvisor. A student may request in writing that final grades be sent to the parent(s). Instructors are asked to inform the director of academic advising whenever a student’s work in a course becomes unsatisfactory during the semester.

Dean’s List

A student will be placed on the Dean’s List if they attain a term grade average for the semester of 3.75 or higher. In order to qualify for the Dean’s List, a student must complete 16 credits or the maximum semester credit load permitted according to a documented accommodation. At least 14 of these 16 credits, or similar ratio in the case of an accommodation, must be taken for a letter grade. Only credits completed at Grinnell and those programs directly administered by Grinnell will be used in determining eligibility. A student cannot earn Dean’s List recognition if they have an incomplete or an NGR (no grade reported). A student whose incomplete or NGR is later converted to a letter grade and who thereby becomes eligible for the Dean’s List will be placed on the Dean’s List retroactively.

Prematriculation Credit (AP, IB, and Other Examination Credits)

Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge Advanced Level, and  Caribbean Advanced Proficiency (CAPE) Credits

A student entering Grinnell will be granted four semester credits for each qualifying exam as indicated on Office of the Registrar’s website. Such credits are awarded based on an official score report received directly from the College Board for Advanced Placement (AP credit), an official transcript received from International Baccalaureate (IB), or an A-level or CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam) official certificate. Typically credits are granted for scores of 4 or higher for AP and 5 or higher for IB on Higher Level courses only, B grade or better for A-level and  II or better for CAPE, but specifics are contained on our website.

Website containing the most recent credits to be accepted: https://www.grinnell.edu/about-grinnell/leadership-and-administration/offices-and-services/registrar/resources-students

The Conditions for acceptance of credit for exams taken prior to matriculation at Grinnell College are:

  • First-year, first-time freshman are limited to a maximum of 24 pre and post-matriculation credits (AP, IB, A-level, CAPE, college credits).
  • All AP/IB/A-level/CAPE credits are counted as Divisional credit and are not subject to the 48 credit departmental limit.
  • AP/IB/A-level/CAPE credits awarded count toward the 124 credits required for the degree.
  • Where an equivalent course is listed on the website chart, the AP/IB/A-level/CAPE credits can be used to meet the prerequisite for another course.
  • AP/IB/A-level/CAPE credits count toward the 32 or 34 credits required for a major only if the website indicates “For major credit”.
  • AP/IB/A-level/CAPE scores and corresponding credit will be cancelled upon successful completion (“D” grade or better) of any equivalent Grinnell course.

Other Examination Credits

Grinnell will also award a maximum of 16 credits for the German Abitur examination or the French Baccalauréat examination. Exams to be accepted by Grinnell College must be in subjects where we would also accept AP scores.

Grinnell does not grant credits for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test or other such programs.

Transfer Credit

Transfer Articulation

Students matriculating as first-time first-year students must complete at least six semesters in residence and are limited to a maximum of 24 pre- and post-matriculation transfer credits (AP, IB, A-level, CAPE, college credit). For students with an approved program to study off campus for one semester, the program credits are excluded from the 24-limit of transfer credits and the semester off-campus is counted toward the residency requirement. For students approved for yearlong off campus programs, only one semester of off campus study will count toward the residency requirement, although the credits from both semesters will be accepted.

Currently enrolled students who attend another properly accredited institution have the responsibility of submitting the Transfer Course Approval Form to the Office of the Registrar in a timely fashion. In addition it is their responsibility to consult the Student Handbook on the limitations on transfer work after matriculation to Grinnell.

The evaluation of transfer credit by the Registrar involves these considerations:

  1. The educational quality of the institution; and
  2. The comparability of the nature, content, and level of credit earned to what Grinnell currently offers; and
  3. The appropriateness and applicability of the credits earned to the programs offered by Grinnell, in light of the student’s educational goals.

Courses in which a grade of C or above (C– is not acceptable) is earned at other institutions are transferable or applicable toward major or degree requirements at Grinnell. In addition, courses that are graded on a pass/fail basis must be accompanied by written documentation from the school issuing the credit that the passing grade reflects work at C or above (C– is not acceptable). 

When transfer credits or Grinnell College credits overlap or duplicate Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), A-level, or CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam) credits, the highest credit value will be accepted. For courses that may apply to either a major or a concentration, the department chair of the major or concentration, at the request of the student, will make a determination and notify the Office of the Registrar in writing as to what credits can be applied toward the major or concentration. AP/IB/A-level/CAPE credits will be cancelled upon the successful completion of any equivalent Grinnell course. Students should contact the Office of the Registrar for more details.

Courses considered vocational or remedial, College Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits, or other such placement credits are not transferable.

Grinnell usually does not award course credit for work done through distance learning, correspondence, extension, or continuing education programs. Only distance learning, extension, or continuing education courses that are (1) in traditional liberal arts subject areas and (2) accepted for credit by the sponsoring accredited institution for its own bachelor’s degree may be granted credit subject to all other transfer of credit regulations. In addition, acceptance of such work is subject to Grinnell’s evaluation of the educational quality of the institution offering the distance learning courses.

Credits will not accepted for transfer after the Office of the Registrar has verified completion of all requirements for graduation.

All summer and winter term courses, whether overseas or in the United States, must be approved in advance by the student’s academic adviser and the registrar. Prior approval ensures the transfer of credit to Grinnell. The number of summer and winter interim credits accepted for transfer is subject to the maximum allowable transfer credits for first-time, first-year students and transfer students.

Transfer Students

A transfer student will be allowed to apply toward a degree at Grinnell a maximum of 62 semester credits of transferable work depending upon the student’s classification at the time of enrollment. If a transfer student has more than 62 credits of transferable work, the registrar will work with the student to determine which credits, not exceeding 62, will be accepted.

a) Upon matriculation at Grinnell the student is assigned a class level (FR2, SO1, SO2, JR1) based on a combination of all college credits and the number of equivalent full-time semesters of college the student completed. To graduate in eight semesters from Grinnell, the student must complete a minimum of four semesters of residency at Grinnell and eight total semesters of college.

b) If the student is below the minimum credits of their initial classification, the student shall be allowed to transfer additional future summer credits to bring the student up to the minimum credits. Such courses are subject to all transfer requirements noted in the Student Handbook.

c) The student must complete a four-year plan with their adviser upon declaration of their major. If it is apparent from this plan, that an additional semester will be needed to complete the major or complete a coherent academic program, the student can request a reclassification from the Registrar’s Office. (Note: Classification affects the number of semesters of financial aid for which the student is eligible.)

d) If the student wishes to complete college in seven semesters or less the student must apply for accelerated graduation.

e) This chart will determine classification and maximum number of credits that can be transferred during a student’s time at Grinnell College:

Transfer students
who enter as
Full-time equivalent
semesters of college:
Guideline credits
for classification:
Maximum # of
transfer credits:
Minimum # of
Grinnell credits:
Anticipated # of
Semesters at
2nd Sem, 1st Year (FR2) 1   12-27 credits 32    92 credits 7
1st Sem, 2nd Year (SO1) 2   28-43 credits 46    78 credits 6
2nd Sem, 2nd Year (SO2) 3   44-59 credits 62    62 credits 5
1st Sem, 3rd Year (JR1) 4   60-62 credits 62    62 credits 4

*This number may be reduced subject to accelerated graduation requirements.


Concentrations are organized programs a student may choose to complete in addition to a major. When a concentration and a major are related, up to 8 credits of work included in a student’s major may also be counted toward the concentration. In the case of a second or “double” concentration, no credits are allowed to be shared with the other concentration. Only up to 8 credits total may be shared between all majors and all concentrations. Completion of a concentration is entered on a student’s permanent record together with the student’s major.

Concentrations are offered in American Studies; East Asian Studies; Environmental Studies; European Studies; Global Development Studies; Latin American Studies; Linguistics; Neuroscience; Peace and Conflict Studies; Policy Studies; Russian, Central, and Eastern European Studies; Statistics; Studies in Africa, Middle East, and Asia; and Technology Studies.

Students declare their intention to pursue a concentration by preregistration for their seventh semester. Each concentration includes work in several departments and culminates in a seminar or research project in the senior year. A course in the student’s concentration cannot be elected for grading on the “S/D/F” basis. Any course elected for such grading before the student’s declaration of a major or concentration does not count toward the minimum credit requirement for the major or concentration.

Phi Beta Kappa

In the spring semester, the local Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Beta of Iowa, selects high-achieving third-year and senior students from among the candidates for election. All candidates for election as members-in-course shall meet successfully the following requirements of their academic course of study:

  • Foreign language. Completion of a course at or beyond the third-semester level of a modern foreign language, or the second-semester level of a classical language, or proficiency beyond such level as demonstrated by the candidate’s educational history, e.g., years of education in a non-English-speaking country.
  • Mathematics. Completion of the course MAT 124 or MAT 131, or a mathematics course for which MAT 124 or MAT 131 is a prerequisite.
  • General distribution. At least 12 semester credits of study in the divisions of humanities, sciences, and social studies as defined at Grinnell College, with no more than eight divisional credits counted to come from any one academic department, and completion of at least one science course with a laboratory experience. A letter grade will be required in courses used to satisfy distribution requirements for election to Phi Beta Kappa, except for courses only offered S/D/F. Courses accepted as transfer credits by the Office of the Registrar may be used to satisfy distribution requirements, even though no letter grade appears on the student’s transcript for these courses. In any case, only courses designated to one of the three academic divisions by the Office of the Registrar will count toward the distribution requirements. For courses cross-listed in two or more divisions (such as MAT 115/SST 115), the student should ensure that the course is designated to the desired division on his or her transcript. Academic skills courses (including writing lab, reading lab, math lab) do not count toward satisfying divisional requirements.

Advanced Placement (AP) and transfer credits may be used to satisfy any eligibility requirement, provided that the Office of the Registrar has determined them to be equivalent to the relevant courses at Grinnell. A maximum of four AP credits may be used to satisfy the distribution requirement in each division. The student is responsible for ensuring that the appropriate credits are listed on his or her transcript.

Transcripts will be evaluated after the add/drop period of spring semester courses. Courses that are in progress will count toward the eligibility requirements. Before the induction ceremony each year, the chapter may verify the eligibility of students to be elected by requesting that the Office of the Registrar notify the chapter if a student has withdrawn from a course needed to satisfy eligibility requirements. The chapter initiates the consideration of third-year students and seniors for membership without action by the students. Students will be notified by the chapter if they are to be offered membership in Phi Beta Kappa.

Disability Resources

Grinnell College, in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Amendments Act of 2008, recognizes that qualified students who have diagnosed disabilities are entitled to benefit from the educational programs of the College. Grinnell is committed to making reasonable accommodations for students with diagnosed or identified disabilities. These accommodations may include reasonable modifications to the academic, residential or dining environments at Grinnell College.  The Disability Resource Office coordinates this process, and students in need of accommodations should contact this office. Academic accommodations may include extended time on exams, note-takers or books in auditory format. Planning for academic accommodations is the responsibility of the student in conjunction with the Coordinator for Disability Resources and the student’s adviser.

The Coordinator of Disability Resources and the Coordinator of Assistive Technology work closely together to provide accommodations and assistive technology for students who need books in alternative formats, smart pens, or other assistive technology devices. Students requesting accommodations must provide the College with current, written diagnostic evaluations of their disabilities that include recommendations for appropriate accommodations. Additional information can be found on the disability and accessibility website.