I know this has been gone over a few times, but like everyone I somehow feel my particular case isn't addressed by previous threads on the topic. I'd really like to hear from those with actual insight; perhaps those who have been on admissions committees or have been in similar situations and can relay outcomes.
I'm starting my senior year of my BS in physics, with the intention of moving on to a PhD program in astronomy. Prior to last semester I had around a 3.7 GPA and nothing worse than a B on my transcript. Last semester I bit off far more than I could chew (19 credit hours plus research and working part time). As a result, I ended up with a C in Mechanics II and a C in PDE. My grades in my other courses were enough to keep the semester GPA to a 3.0, and my overall barely above a 3.5.
With only this fall semester between me and grad school applications, I'm feeling a little doomed. Even more frustrating, the two C's were very circumstantial (I'll save the sob story, but suffice it to say I barely missed B's in both classes as a result of a horrible midterm catastrophe). I know the C in mechanics is far more damaging than the C in PDE, but PDE is the only course I can retake before grad school applications go out.
Now, retaking the course wouldn't be so much for GPA inflation as it would be to show that I'm actually capable with the material. The problem lies in the added stress of taking a course that doesn't count toward my credit requirement, that would take time from other coursework, and that might not actually measurably benefit my application profile. Also, I have the option of taking a 400 level physics elective this semester that isn't usually offered, but would put me at 23 credit hours if I try to retake PDE as well.
I feel like I already know the answer, and I'm inclined to simply focus on doing well this semester and on the physics GRE, and perhaps explain the grade disparity in my applications. As of right now, however, I can't seem to swallow having two glaring C's on my transcript. As such, I'm registered for the course and have only one week left to drop it without a penalty.
Any advice would be tremendously helpful. Thanks.