If Your College Roommate Dies, Do You Get a 4.0?

Male college student checking results posted on bulletin board, rear view
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An old urban legend—who knows where it got started—claims that you automatically get a 4.0 GPA for the term if your college roommate dies. It's a legend that never seems to go away, no matter how implausible it is.

The truth about school bereavement policies is far less exciting. If something unfortunate were to happen to your roommate, you would likely be given a bit of understanding and flexibility with your academic requirements, and maybe even some other accommodations. You would not, however, automatically be given a 4.0-grade point average for the term.

Media Myths

As ridiculous as this legend may sound, it does show up repeatedly in popular culture—perhaps causing some credulous persons to accept it as truth. (There are queries about it on the popular website .) In the 1998 movie "Dead Man's Curve," two students decide to kill their roommate and make his death look like a suicide after they learn that they will be given high marks for their bereavement. A similar scenario occurs in the movie "Dead Man on Campus." There is even an episode of "Law & Order" in which a student is given a free pass for her classes after her roommate kills herself. These media portrayals of academic bereavement policies—which have no basis in fact—have likely played a role in sustaining this urban legend.

Special Accommodations

Perfect GPAs are quite rare in college and are not just handed out because a person has experienced personal stress (from a deceased roommate or any other factor). In college, too, each student is held accountable for their own individual choices and circumstances. Even if you were to experience the worst case scenario when it came to your roommate, your own college life would not automatically benefit from it. Might you perhaps be given extensions on papers or exams or even an incomplete in a class? Of course. Some schools even allow additional accommodations, such as reassignment to a new residence on campus or permission to take in a pet. But being given an automatic 4.0-grade point average is highly unlikely, if not impossible.

All of which, at the end of the day, is probably good news for you—and your roommate. After all, giving out special academic benefits to those who suffer a loss would not be fair to those who earned a 4.0 GPA through their own hard work. And not only would it not be fair—it would hurt the academic reputation of a school or university since outside institutions and employers would not be able to tell if an "A" from that school indicated academic achievement or not.

If you ever do find yourself having to deal with the death of a roommate, the best advice is to seek support from family, friends, and university staff and counselors. Every school has resources to help students deal with particular challenges. Consult with school officials if you believe you may need any form of assistance or accommodation as you go through the grieving process. Officials will help you take the proper steps to ensure you make it through the rest of the term as smoothly as possible.