Grades assigned for college work represent the quality of the student's performance in a particular class. Sometimes life gets in the way of college courses and students are unable to complete coursework in a timely manner. Rather than dropping a class or dropping out of school, many colleges and universities offer the option of receiving a grade of incomplete.
Definition of Incomplete
An incomplete, usually indicated by an "I" on grade listings, indicates the student did not finish the class by the end of the regular term but may still have an opportunity to complete the work. Some schools only allow incomplete grades for students who have completed a certain amount of the work. For instance, at Central Piedmont Community College in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, students must typically have completed 90 percent of the work needed in the course to qualify for an incomplete.
Instructors may assign incomplete grades when extenuating circumstances exist that prevent students from finishing the class. Such events as a death in the family, extended illness and unavoidable work commitment may qualify for incomplete status, but students typically must be progressing satisfactorily in the course and petition the instructor for such a grade. Students who simply stop attending class without contacting the instructor regarding the reason may end up failing the course or being administratively withdrawn by the instructor.
An incomplete grade does not reward the student with academic credit and so is not included in grade point average computation. Teachers award a grade of incomplete with the expectation that students will finish any necessary work within a specified time frame. If students do not meet that deadline, most schools convert the grade to an F, which is then included in the student's GPA. Even if the school does not change an incomplete to an F, the grade can affect overall GPA, however. For instance, at the University of California Davis, incompletes count as an F when computing GPA for graduation. Those below the 2.0 required for the bachelor's degree cannot graduate from UC Davis.
Time to Completion
The amount of time that students have to finish coursework varies by school and may even differ from by course within a college or university. CPCC students, for example, may have up to six months to complete the work unless the instructor or division set an earlier date. At Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, however, instructors set the deadlines, although the registrar's office indicates students normally have 30 days after the course ends. UC Davis allows students three quarters, which is one academic year, to finish.