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)