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Grades and Credit

in this section

In This Section:


The grading system used at the university is shown below.

Letter Grade Point Value Description
Excellent to Very Good: comprehensive knowledge and understanding of subject matter; marked perception and/or originality
Good: moderately broad knowledge and understanding of subject matter; noticeable perception and/or originality
Satisfactory: reasonable knowledge and understanding of subject matter; some perception and/or originality
Marginal: minimum knowledge and understanding of subject matter; limited perception and/or originality
F 0.0 Failing: unacceptably low knowledge and understanding of subject matter; severely limited perception and/or originality
S - “Satisfactory” equivalent to C– or above
U - Unsatisfactory” equivalent to below C–

Symbols Used in Lieu of Grades

  • INC The student has substantial passing-level equity in the course but is unable to complete it because of circumstances beyond their control.
  • R (Registered) This grade substitute is given after the first semester of a full-year course that does not require a grade until the end.
  • W (Withdrew) The student withdrew from the course (with college permission) after the seventh week (or beyond three-fifths of the duration of shorter courses).

S/U Grading Option

In some courses students have the option of receiving a grade of satisfactory or unsatisfactory (S or U) instead of a letter grade. Students may pre-register for such a course under the S/U option or change the grading option during the first three weeks of the semester. Changing a grade option is accomplished by completing the “Changes to Grade Option or Credit Hours” section of an add/drop form; this requires permission of the student’s faculty advisor and the course instructor or departmental representative. A grade of S is equivalent to a letter grade of A+ through C–; U is equivalent to a grade of D+ or less.)

Important: After the third week of classes, the grading option may not be changed, nor will students be permitted to add a course in which they were previously enrolled (in the current semester) under a different grade option.

Engineering students may choose to receive an S/U grade option under the following conditions:

  • The course is offered with an S/U option.
  • The student has completed at least one full semester of study at Cornell. First-year students may not take any courses on an S/U basis during their first semester except for courses that are graded “S/U Only”.
  • The S/U course must be used as either a liberal-studies distribution or an approved elective in the Engineering curriculum.
  • Students may enroll S/U in only one (1) course each semester in which the choice between letter grade and S/U is an option. (Additional courses offered “S/U only” may be taken in the same semester as the “elected S/U” course.)

Note: S/U courses do not count toward eligibility for the Dean’s List and may weaken chances for acceptance into graduate school. Address questions regarding the S/U option to Engineering Advising.

Incomplete Grades

There are many legitimate reasons for delaying completion of a course beyond the time allotted. An extended illness or serious injury, for example, might make it impossible to finish by the end of the semester. In such situations, it is desirable to receive a temporary grade of incomplete and finish the course work at a later time.

To receive an incomplete, students must:

  • Have an extenuating reason that prevents them from completing the course in the time allotted; and
  • Have passing equity in the course at the time of the request. (This is generally defined as completion of at least half the course work at a passing level.)

Incomplete grades are granted at the discretion of the course instructor. If you think an incomplete is appropriate, discuss it with the instructor, making sure to arrange specific conditions under which the missing work is to be completed and set a deadline for submission. Having this “contract” in writing is desirable.

Evidence of an incomplete remains permanently on the transcript. When the course has been completed, a grade is entered with an asterisk, indicating that it was not completed during the regular semester. Students should weigh the cost of taking an incomplete against the reasons for doing so. It may be helpful to discuss the matter with a faculty advisor or a staff member in Engineering Advising.

Advanced Placement and Transfer Credit

Many students come to Cornell with advanced placement credit for courses taken in high school or with courses taken at an accredited college that are similar to courses offered here. Students who think they are already competent in the subject matter of a course offered at the introductory level can demonstrate their proficiency and receive credit for the course without actually taking it.

There is a difference between advanced placement credit and transfer credit. Advanced placement credit is awarded when a student shows competence in a subject by doing well on an approved exam. Transfer credit is awarded for a course that has been satisfactorily completed at another college and that has not been used to meet high school graduation requirements.

The only courses for which students may obtain advanced placement or transfer credit are those that fit degree requirements in the undergraduate engineering program. The College of Engineering decides whether credit should be awarded for particular courses, and in all cases this decision is final.

Advanced Placement Credit

Students may become eligible for advanced placement credit in four ways:

  • By taking a College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) examination,
  • By successfully completing a General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced (A-Level) examination,
  • By successfully completing an International Baccalaureate (IB) Higher Level examination, or
  • By taking a Cornell departmental examination, given during Orientation Week prior to the beginning of the fall term.

If a student’s performance on one of these exams is satisfactory, college credit will be offered.

Advanced placement credit need not be accepted. Choosing to accept credit will depend, in part, on whether a course is a technical course that will be a prerequisite for other courses in a student’s academic program. If it is not a technical prerequisite, there is no reason not to accept it. If it is a technical prerequisite, students should make certain that they are really prepared to take the next course in the sequence.

Departmental examinations test technical preparedness, and in this sense, they are better than CEEB AP exams, which may not test for what Cornell expects a student to know. The departmental exam is designed to test the depth of knowledge in the entire range of material customarily covered in a particular course offered at Cornell. Satisfactory performance on such an exam indicates that students already know what they would have learned if they had taken the Cornell course. Satisfactory performance on the CEEB AP exam is not as good an indication that a student knows the entire range of material. When in doubt, students should feel free to take a departmental exam, even if they have already passed the CEEB AP exam.

Since the amount of advanced placement or transfer credit awarded can affect the degree of difficulty of the first year and subsequent success as an engineering student, students should consider the options carefully, seeking advice from their faculty advisors during Orientation Week and talking with the undergraduate coordinator (see pages 10–11) for the primary Major of interest. The first year at Cornell is crucial to the development of an undergraduate program; wise use of advanced placement and transfer credit can make a positive difference.

Acceptable Subjects and Scores

A table showing the most common subjects for which advanced placement credit is awarded in the College of Engineering, and the scores needed on qualifying tests, follows. In mathematics, physics, chemistry, and computer science, advanced placement credit is awarded only for courses required in the engineering curriculum. (The College of Engineering does not award advanced placement credit for statistics.)

Modern Languages

Students can earn advanced placement credit for competence in a foreign language by taking the CEEB AP test or by taking the Cornell Advanced Standing Examination (CASE). Those with a score of 4 or 5 on the CEEB AP test in French, German, Italian, or Spanish will be awarded 3 credits. Qualification for the CASE (in any language) requires at least a 65 on a college placement test (taken either in high school or at Cornell during Orientation Week). Students achieving a passing score on the CASE will be awarded 3 credits. Modern language credits, earned via AP or CASE, may be used to satisfy part of the liberal studies distribution requirement (in the foreign language category) or the approved elective requirement, contingent on discussion with the faculty advisor.

Other Subjects

Advanced placement credit is granted for many subjects not discussed here. If guidelines for a subject area are not spelled out below, the College of Engineering follows the AP guidelines found in the “General Information” section of Courses of Study or online at

General Policies for Advanced Placement Credit

The general policies in the College of Engineering governing awards of advanced placement credit are as follows.

  1. Advanced placement credit will not be offered in any subject area without a documented examination.
  2. All advanced placement examinations are normally taken and scored before fallterm classes begin. Students who take CEEB AP tests in high school should have an official report of their scores sent directly to Cornell as soon as possible. Students who have completed either GCE A-level or IB Higher Level examinations must present the original or a certified copy of their examination certificate to Engineering Advising, 167 Olin Hall. Those who wish to take departmental examinations must do so during Orientation Week.

Advanced Placement Credit Table

Mathematics (1910 and 1920 are required)
4 or 5 on BC A, B, or C on Math or Pure Math exams (1910 only) No credita
Cornell Departmental Exam


Physics (1112, 2213, and 2214 are required)

4 or 5 on mechanics portion of C; 5 on B with successful completion of a high school level calculus course A or B 6 or 7
5 on electricity and magnetism portion of C    
1112 and 2213
  A or B plus credit for MATH 1910  
Chemistry (2090 is required)

2090b 5 B 6 or 7
2090 and 2080   A  
Computing (1110,1112, or 1114 are required)

CS 1110, 1112, or 1114 5 on A, or 4 or 5 on AB   6 or 7
Biology (not required)
4 credits 4   6
8 credits 5 A or B 7
First-Year Writing Seminar (two are required)
One seminar 5 (English)c
A 7

For all other subjects, see Courses of Study or download Advanced Placement and International Credentials (pdf)


a. Students are encouraged to take the Cornell departmental examination during orientation. 
b. Students who obtain advanced placement credit for CHEM 2090 and are thinking of majoring in ChemE or MSE should consider enrolling in CHEM 2150. Those who are offered credit for CHEM 2090 and then elect to take CHEM 2150 will also receive academic credit for CHEM 2090. You may want to discuss this option with your faculty advisor.
c. Students receiving a 4 on the CEEB AP English Literature and Composition exam or the CEEB AP English Language and Composition exam, a 6 on the IB Higher Level English exam, or a B on the GCE A-level English exam will be eligible for 3 credits, which may be applied toward the Literature and the Arts category in the Liberal Studies Distribution requirement.

Transfer Credit

General Policies for Transfer Credit

  • Only courses that meet degree requirements for the undergraduate engineering program and are deemed equivalent in scope and rigor to courses offered at Cornell will be considered for transfer credit.
  • A grade of at least C (not C-) must have been earned in the course being transferred; schools and departments may stipulate a higher minimum grade.
  • At most, 18 transfer or Cornell extramural study credits may be applied to engineering degree requirements after a student matriculates at Cornell. (Credit for summer session courses taken at Cornell is not considered transfer credit.)
  • Transfer credit will not be awarded for courses taken during a semester in which a student is enrolled at Cornell.
  • Transfer credit will not be awarded for cooperative courses taken while in high school, technical skills, or general knowledge acquired through personal experience, employment, or military training.
  • Transfer credit will only awarded if/when the student has submitted a detailed course syllabus or outline, and a certified copy of the student’s official transcript from the host institution (photocopies are not acceptable). Current students must also submit a completed Transfer Credit Form. Incoming First-Year students submit a completed High School Credit Form.
  • Credit in excess of that awarded by Cornell for the equivalent course is never granted, nor will Cornell award more than the number of credits completed at another institution. (Transfer credits from institutions on a trimester or quarter system are not directly comparable to semester credits, and will be reduced when converted to semester credits.)
  • The final transfer credit award is recorded by the Engineering Registrar, 158 Olin Hall. Grades for courses taken at other institutions appear on the official Cornell transcript, but are not included in the Cornell cumulative grade point average.

Transfer Credit for Transfer Students

Transfer students entering as first-, second-, or third-year students may transfer up to 36 credits for each year spent in full-time study at another institution, provided that the courses are acceptable for meeting graduation requirements. No more than 72 total transfer credits (combination of those taken both before and after matriculation) may be used to meet graduation requirements. Transfer credits from institutions on the quarter system or trimester system are not directly comparable to semester credits. In general, the number of trimester credits or quarter credits will be reduced when converted to semester credits, and credit will not be given for more than 10 courses per year. Transfer credit awards for matriculating transfer students are evaluated and determined by the undergraduate Major representative in the student’s intended Major of study in engineering.

Transfer students transferring 12 to 23 credits are exempt from one PE course.

Transfer students transferring 24 or more credits are exempt from two PE courses and the swim test.

Transfer Credit to Fulfill the Math Requirement

If transfer credit is given for one or more of the first three math courses (1910, 1920, and 2930 or 2940), the total number of credits for these three courses must be at least 11; otherwise, another math course is required. Transfer credit given for the fourth, Major-dependent, math course must be at least 3 credits.

Transfer Credit for First-Year Students

Students who have taken a course or courses at an accredited college or university may wish to transfer the credits and apply them toward course requirements at Cornell.

During the summer months prior to arriving on campus, Engineering Advising will work directly with students who indicate that they have taken college-level courses at another institution. These students will be provided additional information by email.

To be eligible to receive transfer credit the following must apply:

  • Students must have received at least a grade of C (not C–) in the course, and the subject matter must be applicable to the Engineering curriculum at Cornell.
  • Engineering Advising must possess a signed statement (High School Credit Form) from the high school guidance office certifying that the course was not used to fulfill high school graduation credit and that it was taught on a college campus by college faculty and attended by college students. Students who want credit for cooperative courses taken in high school must seek AP credit, not transfer credit
  • An official transcript must be received.
  • Transfer credit requests must be completed by the end of the first term of residence.

How to Use Advanced Placement or Transfer Credit

Advanced placement (or transfer) credit enables students to begin their college studies at an appropriate level in each subject. They generally profit from these options, but they must judge their own ability to handle a demanding academic program. The advisability of accepting credit depends on many personal factors, such as the extent of study skills, the activities students wish to engage in during their first year, and the thoroughness of their preparation. Whether to accept advanced placement—or take the corresponding course—is a decision for which the student, alone, is responsible.

AP or transfer credit can be used in at least three ways:

  • Enrolling immediately in a more advanced course in the same subject area, for example, second-term mathematics in the first term.
  • Substituting elective course work during the first year or subsequent year. However, students must meet the criteria for good academic standing.
  • Enrolling in fewer courses, using the credit to fulfill basic requirements. (To be in good standing, enrollment in at least 12 credits each semester is required.)

Further Information

For further information about advanced placement or transfer credit, contact Engineering Advising, College of Engineering, Cornell University, 167 Olin Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-5201; telephone: 255.7414, email: