What to Do If You Fail a College Class

What to Do If You Fail a College Class

8 minute read

No matter how well you did in high school or how hard you studied once you got to college, sometimes you fail a class. While unfortunate, it’s not the end of your college career. If you find out you’re at risk of failing before the end of the semester, there may be ways to pull up your grade. And if you’ve already failed, there are several options to keep you on track for graduation.

So take a deep breath and read on to learn more about ways to stay proactive in your college education, even if you fail a class.

What To Do When You Find Out You’re Failing

You may be able to find out before the end of the semester whether you’re about to fail. If so, make sure you talk to the right people to find out if there’s anything you can do now to keep from failing later.

Talk to Your Professor

Start with your professor. Visit them during office hours or see if you can schedule time to speak with them 1:1. Here are some questions to get the conversation going:

  • Which parts of my grade are bringing down my average? Ask your professor about their grading breakdown to address where you made a mistake.
  • Is there anything I can do to make it up? There may be assignments, extra credit, or alternative assessments that can help you pull your grade up in time.
  • Am I eligible for an “Incomplete” rather than a “Fail?” Depending on your school’s policies, this might buy you additional time to complete outstanding assignments or exams.
  • Do you have any feedback on how I can do better if I retake the class? Knowing where you went wrong can help you next time. (We’ll discuss retaking classes more below.)

Talk to Your Advisor

In addition to your professor, it’s a good idea to check in with your academic advisor. Their job is to help you along your path to graduation. These questions may be able to help you figure out the best next steps to take:

  • What impact will this have on my GPA? Find out whether failing this one class will affect your overall academic standing.
  • Will this affect my financial aid? Your advisor should be able to tell you whether the failing grade jeopardizes your current aid or any future assistance.
  • If and when can I retake the class? There may be specific logistics or rules about when (or if) you can retake the class.
  • Is it too late to withdraw from the class? Ask if it’s possible to withdraw from the class, and if so, the potential repercussions and deadlines associated with it.
  • Are there any alternative courses I can take that will fulfill this requirement? There may be another path to get the same credit.
  • How will this affect my major? You should investigate if there are any specific consequences or adjustments needed within your chosen field of study if you fail this class.
  • Will I still graduate on time? If failing this class will affect your ability to graduate on time, learn what you can do, like taking summer courses or online classes.

Potential Consequences of Failing a Class

If you find out you’re failing — or if you’ve already failed — make it a priority to get more information about what happens next. While many of the following are possible, there are multiple factors at play, including which school you attend, how you’re doing in other classes, how many credits the course was worth, and any financial aid or scholarships you have. 

Keep in mind that there are no guarantees that any of the following consequences will happen to you if you fail a class. You may encounter some, none, or all of them.

You’ll Be Less Likely To Get Into Graduate School

One impact of failing a class as an undergraduate is the diminished likelihood of getting into graduate school. Graduate admissions officers pay close attention to academic transcripts. A failing grade can raise questions about your ability to handle advanced coursework.

Your GPA Goes Down

Maintaining a high GPA is often a prerequisite for any scholarships you’ve earned or honors programs you’re eligible for. A decline signals to institutions and scholarship committees that your scholastic aptitude may be lacking. Many academic opportunities rely on a strong GPA as a measure of competence and diligence.

You May Get Put on Academic Probation

Academic probation serves as a warning to students that their overall academic performance is below the acceptable standard. It typically comes with specific conditions that you must meet to regain good standing. These may include achieving a certain GPA, retaking failed courses, or seeking academic support. Being on academic probation underscores the importance of addressing your failing issues as soon as possible.

You May Need to Retake the Class

Retaking a class demands additional time and effort, but it sometimes stands as a viable solution to mitigate the repercussions of failing. As we’ve mentioned above, speaking with your professor or advisor could help you be more successful the next time you take this class. However, be mindful that not all schools allow retakes, and for those that do, not all classes can be retaken. 

What You Can Do Now

If you’ve done everything possible and still failed a class, there are options available. Whether you want to continue on your present path and are looking to graduate on time or want to seek alternative options, there is a way forward. While not all of these options are available for all students, it helps to know the possibilities for your future.

Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself

Failing a class can be frustrating and upsetting, but try not to be too hard on yourself. Failure is a part of academic life and can happen for any number of reasons. It doesn’t reflect on your overall intelligence or competence in a particular subject. Instead, it highlights areas where improvement or adjustment may be needed.

One of the best things you can do now is to take action. Try to pinpoint the specific factors that contributed to the failure. This self-awareness can go a long way in helping you avoid similar pitfalls in the future. Focus on solutions rather than dwelling on disappointment.

Talk to Your Academic Advisor

One proactive step you can take right away is to speak with your academic advisor. Advisors are there to guide you through academic challenges and let you know what your options are for moving forward.

Your advisor can provide insights into the various strategies available for course recovery, such as taking summer courses, fulfilling requirements at a community college, or exploring online learning alternatives.

At a point when things may seem beyond your control, communication with your advisor will empower you to make informed, proactive decisions.

Consider Switching Majors

Switching majors might be a good option for redirecting your academic journey toward a field where you excel. This is particularly true if this isn’t the first class you’ve struggled with in your major. 

Switching majors can be a strategic move aimed at increasing your likelihood of academic success. When considering this option, make sure you do an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and interests so you can move forward with a better idea of where you’ll thrive.

Take the Class Again

If this is a realistic option for you, then this time, you know what to expect and can avoid the same pitfalls. Retaking a class shows that you’re resilient, persistent, and learn from your mistakes. 

Consider Taking Courses Online

Taking courses online with a platform like StraighterLine might be the best way to retake a course you failed at a traditional college. StraighterLine offers asynchronous classes you can take any time with 24/7 student support. Plus, online classes are usually a more affordable way to retake a class, so you avoid paying the same tuition twice.

StraighterLine Helps Students Succeed

StraighterLine is a smart way to get credit for many standard college requirements. Our course credits are transferable to over 150 partner schools, making this an easy way to retake a class you might have failed. For transfer to non-partner schools, you’re eligible to receive an ACE Transcript for credit transfer purposes. Thousands of colleges and universities consider ACE Credit recommendations when determining the applicability to their degree programs. 

Take a look at our 60+ credit courses and find out which ones can help you earn credit toward your degree.

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