What to Do If You Fail a Class in College

Steps to help keep things from getting worse when you get an 'F'

Student frustrated while looking at laptop in school library
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Even stellar students fail college classes sometimes. It's not the end of the world, but it is a good idea to make a game plan to minimize the damage to your academic record and prevent it from happening again.

Check Your Academics

Learn what impact the grade will have on your academics. What will getting an "F" do to your grade-point average? Are you no longer eligible for the next course in a series? Could you be placed on probation? Depending on your situation, you may need to:

  • Rearrange your schedule for next semester by finding courses that don't have a prerequisite.
  • Arrange to take the class again.
  • Take a summer class to stay on track to graduate on time.

Check Your Financial Aid

Many schools allow for an academic slip-up here and there (financially speaking), but if you are on academic probation, are not taking enough credit units, or have any other sort of complication, failing a class can have a major impact on financial aid. Check with your financial aid office to learn what a failed grade may mean for your particular situation.

Consult With Your Advisors

If you can, schedule a meeting with your professor and find out if he or she has any suggestions. Will the class be scheduled again next year or over the summer? Does he or she have any recommendations for tutoring by a graduate student? Are there any books he or she can recommend to help you better prepare for next time?

One of the reasons you have an academic advisor is to help you out in situations like this. Reach out to that person: he or she will likely know the ins and outs of the academic process at your university.

Check Your Reasons

Be honest with yourself about why you failed a class. Understanding where things went wrong can help you from repeating mistakes and potentially failing again. Here are some common reasons why students fail classes and what you can do about them:

  • Focusing too much on partying and not enough on academics. You don't have to be a hermit, but try to find ways to socialize that don't involve partying. If you can't cut this out altogether, at least dial it back.
  • Overcommitting to too many extracurricular activities or a part-time job. If you're stretching yourself too thin, something's gotta give. If your part-time job is essential for your finances, keep it but try not to work more hours than you absolutely have to. Likewise, too many extracurricular activities are not necessarily a good thing. Focus only on those that are most important to you.
  • Procrastinating on assignments and studying. Getting work done on time is a challenge that's all too common. Set up regular study hours and stick to them. Once you make studying a habit, it will become easier for you to keep the momentum going.
  • Turning in assignments late or not following directions. Life does happen. Sometimes things come up that you simply can't plan for. That said, turning in assignments on time and following directions is up to you. If you are unclear about requirements or don't think you're going to have enough time to complete the work as assigned, speak with your teacher before the material is due.
  • Having a professor or teaching assistant with whom you just don't click. Not every failure is your fault. There are times you simply end up in the wrong class with the wrong teacher. While you might have to take a class again to meet the requirements of your program, see if someone else is teaching a similar course. If not, you might simply have to bite the bullet and do whatever you can to pass next time. If possible, simply avoid taking classes with this person in the future.

Check in With Your Parents

Tell your parents. Your parents may not have a legal right to know your grades, but putting a failed grade out into the open will give you one less thing to stress about. Hopefully, your parents will provide you with the emotional support and the concrete advice you'll need to keep yourself on track.

Let It Go

So you failed a class. Admit you messed up, figure out where you went wrong, and move on. Failure can be a great teacher. In the big picture of life, you may actually learn more from your mistakes than your successes. One failed class does not define you. Since you're in college to learn, take away what you can from the experience and make the most of it—because that's what college is supposed to be all about anyway, right?