Academics - Academic Standards and Regulations

Information About Courses

Course Credit
Most Bowdoin courses earn one full credit, which is equal to four semester hours, and are considered to have equal weight toward degree requirements. A few courses, such as music performance courses, generally earn one-half credit each. In accordance with federal regulations, Bowdoin courses that count for one credit typically meet for three hours a week, with the expectation that a minimum of nine additional hours a week will be spent in lab, discussion group, film viewings, or preparatory work.

Course Load
All students at Bowdoin are full-time students and, in order to make normal progress toward the degree, are expected to register for no fewer than four credits each semester. Students may not take fewer than three credits per semester without approval from the Recording Committee; first-year students may not take fewer than four credits per semester without the approval of both their academic advisor and the dean of first-year students. Students may not take more than five credits without approval from their academic advisor(s) and dean. Students may not take more than four credits while on academic probation without approval from the Recording Committee. Seniors may be required to take one course per semester in their major department, at the department’s discretion. Students should note that if they choose to take three courses, they may not elect Credit/D/Fail for any of them, as per the Credit/D/Fail policy (see below). Taking courses Credit/D/Fail may impact a student’s ability to qualify for awards such as the Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholars (see below). Bowdoin College also admits a small number of special students each year. These students may follow alternative policies guiding course load and other rules. Please contact the Office of Admissions or the Office of the Registrar for more information.

No extra tuition charge is levied upon students who register for more than four credits, and, by the same token, no reduction in tuition is granted to students who choose to register for fewer than four credits during any of their eight semesters at Bowdoin. A student may be granted a tuition reduction for taking fewer than three credits only if a ninth semester is required to complete the degree and they have previously been a full-time Bowdoin student for eight semesters. All such appeals should be made in writing to the dean of student affairs and the head of finance and administration.

Attendance and Examinations
Students are expected to attend the first meeting of any course in which they are registered. Students who do not attend the first meeting may be dropped from the course at the discretion of the instructor, but only if the course was officially full before the first day of the semester. Regular attendance at classes is expected and individual instructors may establish specific attendance expectations. At the beginning of each semester, instructors will make clear to students the attendance regulations of each course. If expectations are unclear, students should seek clarification from their instructors.

Attendance at examinations is mandatory. An absence from any examination, be it an hour examination or a final examination, may result in a grade of F. In the event of illness or other unavoidable cause of absence from examinations, instructors may require documentation of excuses from the Office of the Dean of Students after consultation with the Health Center or the Counseling Service. Students bear ultimate responsibility for arranging make-up or substitute course work. In unusual cases (family and personal emergencies, illness, etc.), examinations may be rescheduled by agreement of the course instructor and a dean.

Final examinations of the College are held at the close of each semester and must be given according to the schedule determined each semester by the Office of the Registrar. Extra classes may only be scheduled during Reading Period with permission from the dean for academic affairs. All testing activity is prohibited during Reading Period including but not limited to take-home exams, final exams, and hour exams.

All academic work, except for final examinations, final papers, final lab reports, and final projects, is due on or before the last day of classes; although instructors may set earlier deadlines, they may not set later deadlines. All final academic work, including final examinations, final papers, final lab reports, and final projects, is due at or before 5:00 p.m. on the last day of the final examination period; although instructors may set earlier deadlines, they may not set later deadlines. In all cases, students should consult their course syllabi for specific deadlines for specific courses. The deadline for submitting final, approved honors projects for the Library is determined by the College.

Athletics and other extracurricular activities do not exempt students from the normal policies governing attendance at classes and examinations. When conflicts arise, students should immediately discuss possible alternatives with course instructors. At times, however, students may find themselves having to make serious choices about educational priorities.

A student with three one-hour examinations in one day or three final examinations in two days may reschedule one for a day mutually agreeable to the student and the instructor. To initiate this change during final exams only, students must obtain an Examination Rescheduling Form from the Office of the Registrar at least two weeks in advance of the conflicting exams. For examinations taking place during the semester, students should make arrangements directly with the faculty members. Other changes may be made for emergencies or for educational desirability, but only with the approval of the Office of the Dean of Students.

In recognition of Bowdoin’s commitment to a diverse and inclusive student body and the variety of religions observed and practiced by our students, faculty are encouraged to avoid conflicts between in-class examinations and other significant academic work and major religious holidays. The calendar below was developed in collaboration with the director of religious and spiritual life and includes major observances of the officially recognized religious groups at Bowdoin.

Students are expected to declare their intention to observe religious holidays at the beginning of the semester, and to work with an instructor when there is a conflict with a scheduled examination, paper, or project due date and a significant religious holiday observed by the student so that, when warranted, alternative arrangements for completing the work may be made.

Students or faculty who have any questions regarding how best to balance the academic calendar alongside religious observances are encouraged to consult with the director of religious and spiritual life.


  • August 21–22, Tuesday–Wednesday:
    • Eid al-Adha, begins at sundown
  • September 9–11, Sunday–Tuesday:
    • Rosh Hashanah, begins at sundown on September 9 and concludes at sundown on September 11
  • September 18–19, Tuesday–Wednesday:
    • Yom Kippur, begins at sundown on September 18 and concludes at sundown on September 19
  • April 19, Friday:
    • Good Friday
  • April 19–27, Friday–Saturday:
    • Passover, begins at sundown on April 19 and concludes at sundown on April 27
  • April 21, Sunday:
    • Easter
  • May 6, Wednesday:
    • Ramadan, begins at first light on May 6 and concludes at last light on June 5

Course Registration and Course Changes
Students register for courses each semester by obtaining their academic advisor’s approval of their course requests and submitting them by the deadline specified by the Office of the Registrar. An advisor’s release of the “Advisor Hold” in Polaris indicates that the advisor and student have discussed the student’s course selections. Since most courses have maximum and minimum registration limits as well as registration priorities, students cannot assume they will be registered for their top-choice courses. Consequently, students should participate in all available “rounds” of registration to have their alternate course choices considered and to make adjustments to their schedules. For more information on advising, please see studentaffairs/student-handbook/academic-program-and-advising.

Registration for continuing students occurs at the end of the prior semester, generally about six weeks before final examinations. Registration for first-year and transfer students occurs during orientation. Students who are studying away are strongly encouraged to register at the same time as students who are on campus; the Office of the Registrar provides registration instructions and information at and sends registration instructions to students at their Bowdoin email addresses. Registration in courses is complete only when students submit the Enrollment Form, which must be submitted by the end of the first week of classes. This form verifies that a student is on campus and attending classes. A student who does not submit the Enrollment Form may be removed from all classes and barred from using many of the services of the College including but not limited to, dining services, library services, and fitness services. Enrollment Forms submitted late are subject to a $50 fine. Any student who registers initially for courses after the first week of classes must pay a $50 late fee.

Students may adjust their course schedules by participating in the course add/drop process. Instructions for this process are provided by the Office of the Registrar. An instructor will allow a student to add a course if the following three conditions have been met: (1) the student has the necessary qualifications, including but not limited to the course prerequisites; (2) the student and instructor have agreed on how missed class material and assignments will be managed; (3) there is room in the course or the instructor may choose to override the class enrollment limit and allow additional students to register. Normally, no course may be added after the second week of classes. Students may drop courses without permission during the first two weeks of the semester. Students in their first semester at Bowdoin may drop courses in the third through the sixth weeks with the permission of their dean and advisor. Students in their second semester or later may drop a total of two courses in their Bowdoin career during weeks three through six of a semester with the permission of their academic advisor. This is a serious decision that can impact the completion of a student’s education and should only be made in extenuating circumstances. If a student has previously dropped two courses after the second week of the semester in their second semester or beyond, the student will need to petition the Recording Committee for subsequent requests to drop a course during that period. At no time may a student drop below three courses during any semester without permission from the Recording Committee. Any student who wants to add a course after the two-week deadline must also petition the Recording Committee. Generally, petitions are only approved if the student can show extreme personal or medical reasons for the lateness of the change. Any course dropped between the first week and end of the sixth week of the semester through Extended Drop will not appear on a student’s transcript; anything dropped by the Recording Committee will appear on the transcript with a grade of W (for Withdrew). In order to add a course late, a student must have been attending the course from the very beginning of the semester and have instructor permission. Documentation may be required. Course changes approved by the Recording Committee will require payment of a $50 late fee per change, unless the change is made for reasons outside the control of the student.

Students will not receive a grade for a course unless they have completed all steps to register for or add the course. Also, students will receive a failing grade for a course they stop attending unless all steps to drop the course have been completed before the deadline. Students are expected to monitor their records in Polaris, the College’s student information system; this includes monitoring the courses for which they are registered. Students bear ultimate responsibility for completing the processes that provide the College with an accurate record of their course schedule.

Auditing courses is a privilege extended to students, employees of the College, and community members. Auditors must obtain permission from the course instructor before attending the first class and follow their guidelines regarding in-class participation. Auditors are generally not permitted in full courses and are not allowed to attend first-year seminars. The College reserves the right to restrict the number of courses audited by any one person and to limit the total number of auditors on campus at any particular time. Transcripts are not offered for audited courses.

Independent Study
With approval of a project director, normally a faculty member, a student may elect a course of independent study for which regular course credit will be given. A department will ordinarily approve one or two semesters of independent study. Where more than one semester’s credit is sought for a project, the project will be subject to review by the department at the end of the first semester. In special cases that have the support of the department, credit may be extended for additional semester courses beyond two.

There are normally two levels of independent study and each should be registered for using a paper registration form under the appropriate course number. A directed reading course designed to allow a student to explore a subject not currently offered within the curriculum shall be numbered 2970–2998. An independent study that will culminate in substantial and original research or in a fine arts, music, or creative writing project shall be numbered 4000–4028. If a student, in consultation with a department, intends to pursue honors, the student can register for an appropriate honors project course number, 4050–4079. If a department determines that a project does not meet the standards for honors, the course number(s) for one or two semesters of independent study will be changed to 4000–4028. Collaborative studies allow students to work in small groups guided by a member of the faculty. Intermediate collaborative studies are numbered 2999; advanced collaborative studies are numbered 4029. Independent and collaborative studies may not be taken on a Credit/D/Fail basis.

In independent study and honors courses that will continue beyond one semester, instructors have the option of submitting at the end of each semester, except the last, a grade of S (for Satisfactory) in place of a regular letter grade. An S grade must be converted to a regular letter grade by the end of the subsequent term. All independent study grades must be regular letter grades by the end of the project’s final semester.

Course Grades
Course grades are defined as follows:

  • A, the student has mastered the material of the course and has demonstrated exceptional critical skills and originality;
  • B, the student has demonstrated a thorough and above average understanding of the material of the course;
  • C, the student has demonstrated a thorough and satisfactory understanding of the material of the course;
  • D, the student has demonstrated a marginally satisfactory understanding of the basic material of the course (only a limited number of D grades may be counted toward the requirements for graduation); and
  • F, the student has not demonstrated a satisfactory understanding of the basic material of the course.
  • Plus (+) or minus (–) modifiers may be added to B and C grades; only the minus (–) modifier may be added to the A grade.

Courses that are dropped through the Recording Committee will be indicated with a W (for Withdrew) on the student’s transcript.

Faculty report grades to the Office of the Registrar at the close of the semester. Each student in each course must be given a grade by the grade submission deadline as established by the registrar. Grade reports are available to students in Polaris shortly after the grade submission deadline.

Once reported, no grade is changed (with the exception of clerical errors) without the approval of the Recording Committee. Recorded grades cannot be changed on the basis of additional student work without approval of the Recording Committee. If students are dissatisfied with a grade received in a course, they should discuss the problem with the instructor. If the problem cannot be resolved in this manner, the student should consult with the chair of the department and, if necessary, with an associate dean in the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs who will consult with the department as needed. The student may request a final review of the grade by the Recording Committee.

Most departments will not accept as prerequisites, or as satisfying the requirements of the major, courses for which a grade of D has been given. Questions should be referred directly to the department chair. Students who receive a grade of D or F in a course may retake the course. Both courses and both grades will appear on the transcript, but only one course credit will be given for successful completion of a given course. For grades recorded prior to Fall 2013, only the first grade earned in a repeated course is counted in a student’s GPA; beginning with grades recorded for Fall 2013, all grades earned in repeated courses are counted in a student’s GPA. Bowdoin does not round up semester or cumulative GPAs. Instead, GPAs are truncated to display the first three decimals.

Credit/D/Fail Option
A student may choose to take a limited number of courses with the Credit/D/Fail grading option, as opposed to earning regular letter grades. A course may be changed from letter grades to Credit/D/Fail or vice versa up until the end of the sixth week of classes using the process established by the Office of the Registrar. When a student chooses the Credit/D/Fail grading option, a grade of CR (Credit) is given if the student produces work at a level of C- or above, a grade of D is given if the student produces work at a D level, and a grade of F is given otherwise.

In any given semester, a student must be registered for a minimum of 4.0 total credits to elect the Credit/D/Fail grading option for a course. A student who has 5.0 or more credits in their semester course load may elect to take an additional course on a Credit/D/Fail basis. A student may elect the Credit/D/Fail grading option for up to four courses within the 32 credits required for graduation; courses in excess of the 32 credits required may be taken Credit/D/ Fail beginning with the semester following the one in which the 32 credits are completed and as long as the semester course load totals 4.0 credits or more. No more than two courses per semester can be taken Credit/D/Fail after the required 32 credits are earned. Courses that are only graded Credit/D/Fail (music ensemble and dance and theater performance courses, as examples) are not counted within these restrictions. Please note that taking courses Credit/D/ Fail may impact eligibility for the Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar award.

Most departments and programs require that all courses taken to satisfy requirements for the major or minor be taken for regular letter grades. Courses taken to satisfy the College’s first-year seminar requirement must be graded with regular letter grades, and courses satisfying distribution and division requirements must also be taken for regular letter grades (unless CR, D, and F are the only grades given for the course). An independent study, collaborative study, or honors project must be graded with regular letter grades.

A grade of CR (Credit) will not count toward a student’s GPA. A grade of D or F received on the Credit/D/Fail grading scale will count toward a student’s GPA, and it will count toward academic standing (probation, suspension, and dismissal).

The College expects students to complete all course requirements as established by instructors. In unavoidable circumstances (personal illness, family emergency, etc.) and with approval of the dean of students and the instructor, a grade of INC (Incomplete) may be recorded.

An Incomplete represents a formal agreement among the instructor, a dean, and the student for the submission of unfinished course work under prescribed conditions. Students must initiate their request for an Incomplete on or before the final day of classes by contacting a dean. If the Incomplete Agreement Form has not been approved and received in the Office of the Registrar by the grade submission deadline and no other grade has been assigned, a grade of F will be recorded. If the Incomplete Agreement Form has been approved and signed by all necessary individuals, a date is set by which time all unfinished work must be submitted. In all cases, students are expected to finish outstanding course work in a period of time roughly equivalent to the period of distraction from their academic commitments. In no case will this period of time extend beyond the end of the second week of classes of the following semester. The instructor should submit a final grade within two weeks of this date. If the agreed-upon work is not completed within the specified time limit, the Office of the Registrar will change the Incomplete to Fail or ask the instructor to give a grade based on work already completed. Extensions must be approved by the dean of student affairs. Any exceptions to these rules may require approval of the Recording Committee.

Comment and Failure Cards
Faculty communicate the progress of students in their classes periodically through Comment Cards. These written observations alert students, academic advisors, athletic coaches, and the deans in the Office of the Dean of Students to potential problems confronting students. They can also be used by faculty to highlight improvement or successes. Students should view Comment Cards as academic progress reports providing warnings or highlighting achievements. When a Comment Card provides a warning, the student should immediately seek out their instructor to discuss strategies for improvement. Academic advisors and deans can also be very helpful in developing strategies for improvement and identifying existing support services and resources, but it is the student’s responsibility to seek out each of these people. Not all course instructors utilize Comment Cards, so students should not rely on this form of communication as their only source of feedback regarding their progress or standing in a course.

At the end of each semester, instructors issue Failure Cards to students who fail courses. These notations provide precise reasons for a student’s failing grades. Students and academic advisors generally find these comments instructive as they plan future course work.

The Office of the Registrar will furnish official transcripts upon receipt of a request through the National Student Clearinghouse that includes the student’s signature. There is no charge for transcripts unless it is requested that materials be sent by an overnight delivery service. Current students may access their unofficial academic history via Polaris.

Statement of Student Responsibility
The College’s Academic Handbook: Policies and Procedures is available online to every Bowdoin student at Also, students have access to their academic records on Polaris, the College’s student information system. In all cases, the student bears ultimate responsibility for reading and following the academic policies and regulations of the College and for notifying the Office of the Registrar of any problems in their records.