What Happens If you Fail a College Class?

What Happens If you Fail a College Class?
Anissa Sorokin

Knowing that you’ve failed--or are going to fail--a college class can be incredibly stressful. And while failing a class can have significant consequences, it’s probably not the end of your college career! If you’re failing a class, take a deep breath and try to think of the situation as a valuable learning experience. Understanding the impact of failing a course and making a plan to prevent a similar situation in the future will help you stay on track and earn your degree.

Questions to ask if you’re failing a class in college

If you’re failing a class in college, make an appointment with your professor and advisor to better understand the reason you’re failing and the impact it will have on your education. If you’re unsure about how to handle these conversations, start by asking some of these questions:

Ask your professor

  • To explain any aspects of your grade that you don’t understand
  • If they are willing to work with you to help you earn a higher grade (but be realistic--if you haven’t submitted multiple assignments over the course of the semester, don’t expect them to allow you to turn in everything at once or to offer you enough extra credit to make up for what you’ve missed)
  • If you are eligible for an Incomplete rather than a failing grade
  • For feedback about how you can improve your performance if you take the class again

Ask your advisor

  • What impact failing a class with have on your GPA (both overall and major)
  • If failing a class will endanger your satisfactory academic progress and affect any financial aid you may have
  • If and when you can retake the class
  • Whether you can withdraw from the class
  • If there are any other course options that fulfill similar requirements

What happens to your financial aid if you fail a class?

Failing a class can impact your scholarship and financial aid eligibility in a few ways, so it’s important to talk to your advisor about your unique situation. If you’re receiving an aid package in the form of an institutional scholarship, you may need to earn a certain GPA to remain eligible for your scholarship. Failing one class might not hurt your GPA too badly if your other grades are good, but if you’re doing poorly in other classes as well, it may push your GPA below the requirement. Federal financial aid is also generally dependent upon your GPA and student status, so failing a class may render you ineligible for financial aid, or you may have to pay back a portion of your aid to cover the cost of the class you failed.

Retaking a failed class

In many cases, it’s possible (or even necessary) to retake a class that you’ve failed. You may be able to take the class at the same institution, but you might want to consider other options as well if the class isn’t offered at a time that works with the rest of your schedule or if it isn’t offered again until the following semester. For example, if you failed U.S. History at your institution and aren’t able to add it to your schedule immediately, consider taking it online through a course provider like StraighterLine--then you can work through the course at your own pace and transfer your credit when you’ve completed it.

If you decide to retake a class you previously failed, be honest with yourself about what caused you to fail before. Did you genuinely not understand some of the material, or did you manage your time less wisely than you could have? Did you communicate with your professor or advisor when you were struggling? Make a list of things you plan to do to succeed in your class the next time you take it, and ask a friend or family member you trust to help hold you accountable.

While failing a class can be disappointing, don’t let it define or derail you. Reach out to your professor, advisor, and family for support, and keep moving towards your goal!

Anissa Sorokin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English and Writing Program Administrator at Stevenson University near Baltimore, Maryland. Anissa’s interdisciplinary background and extensive experience teaching research, writing, and study skills help her demystify college expectations for students online and in her classroom.

Looking for study tips to help you successfully pass online college courses? Check out this helpful article: Tips for Effective Online Learning

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