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How To Bounce Back From Failing a College Class

Failing a class in college is tough, and it can seem like the end of the world at the time. But, don’t worry as you’ll be able to come back after failing a class! So how do you bounce back from failing a college class? 

Here’s what you need to remember to bounce back from failing a college class:

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  2. Reevaluate your studying habits.
  3. Try to retake the class.

First, we’ll look at the implications of failing a class and how not to get too down on yourself because of it. We’ll explain how to figure out why you failed, how to improve your study habits, and how you can retake the class for a better passing grade. There are also resources like videos and books throughout the post to bounce back from failing a college course.

Failed college class - what to do.

1. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

So, you have failed a class, which is never a good thing, but you shouldn’t take it out on yourself. Failing a class is never fun, but it’s more common than you think, and it provides for a great learning experience and reflection of yourself and your goals. Just because you failed a class doesn’t mean you won’t successfully graduate with your degree. 

In fact, failing a class in college is quite common. You’re not the first to fail a class, and you won’t  be the last. You may be surprised by how many students fail a class over the course of their college careers. 

The University of New Mexico publishes its failure rate for different classes, subjects, and colleges. In the Spring of 2021, nearly sixty percent of students failed a physics class. And, seventeen courses covering a variety of subjects like math, social sciences, and sciences had a failure rate of forty percent or higher in the same semester (source).

So, you’re not the only one who failed a class, and it might be quite common for the class, so don’t take it too hard or personally. 

In this YouTube video, Jordan Peterson and Bite-sized Philosophy talk about failing a class, how you can make the best of it and how your response to a failed class sets you up for life:

Reasons Why You May Have Failed Your College Class

Now that we know that failing a course is common, we need to figure out why you failed the course you did. There are a few common reasons people fail classes, including your professor’s teaching style or you not enjoying the class. 

As you can see, failing a class is not always a consequence of your shortcomings, which is why putting yourself down is rarely helpful in a situation like this. Instead, getting to the root of the problem can help you get a better understanding of the circumstances you’re in and how to improve them.

Your Professor’s Teaching Style Doesn’t Suit You

Sometimes the professor is the reason you failed the class, but not in a way where they’re a bad professor. Their teaching style might just not resonate with you. If you can, retake the class with a different professor. 

But, if you have to have the same professor again, whether for the failed class or another course, talk to them about what went wrong. Your professors are there to help you, but you need to ask for help when you need it. They can give you advice for retaking the class, and they can give you resources to help you in that class and other classes you may struggle in (source).

See Why Do Some Professors Grade So Hard?

You Don’t Enjoy the Class’ Subject

Maybe, you’re not passionate about the class you were taking. Unfortunately, if it’s required to graduate, you’ll still have to retake and pass the class. 

But, if you took an elective because you thought you’d enjoy it but ended up being wrong. Then, find another course that you can take instead. Ask your friends and roommates for suggestions about what courses they enjoyed, or talk to a professor whose class you enjoyed. They can let you know if they teach another class you can take or suggest another class you’d like. 

Or, maybe the class you failed was part of your degree program, and you didn’t enjoy it as much as you thought you would.

For example, if you’re an accounting major and thought you wanted to become a tax accountant but disliked and failed your tax class, you may want to reconsider your degree and career path. It may seem overwhelming to change degrees, but it can only benefit you to find something you enjoy in the long run. 

See Does Switching Majors Look Bad?

2. Reevaluate Your Studying Habits

The biggest reason students fail classes is that their study habits are lacking. If you’re taking a hard, advanced-level class, you need to put in time and effort to learn and succeed in the class. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll fail. 

Reflect on how much you studied for the class. Did you turn in assignments on time? Did you go to office hours or tutoring when you were struggling? Did you put in the time to study and retain the material? Did you feel prepared for exams?

If you answered no to one or more of the questions, you need to evaluate your study habits if you’re retaking the course you failed and if you want to avoid failing any future classes. 

A great book to help you develop good study skills is the Richard E. Mayer How to Be a Successful Student (link to Amazon).

There are more than twenty habits you’ll learn in this book, including motivating yourself to study, finding your best learning environment, and applying learning strategies to your classes. Everything in this book is evidence-based, so you know the tips will help you succeed. 

If you’re worried about failing a class or not succeeding in other parts of the college experience, read the Hyman & Jacobs The Secrets of College Success (link to Amazon). There are more than eight hundred tips in the book that cover picking a major, studying skills, getting good grades, staying motivated, and preparing for a career after college. 

See How To Keep Track of College Homework (10 Methods)

3. Try To Retake the Class

Retaking a failed class might be necessary if you want to graduate, but it can also be a good lesson. Nobody is perfect, and not everything can succeed the first time we try it. And, if you can retake and pass the class, it’ll show up on your transcript, and employers will see that you don’t give up and aren’t afraid to fix your mistakes. 

Retaking classes isn’t the most fun thing to do, especially if you failed it or didn’t enjoy it the first time. But, if you fail, there’s a good chance you’ll need to retake the class to graduate regardless if you want to or not. Before you can retake a class, you need to check your college’s policy for retaking classes and make sure they allow you to do so. There might be certain requirements for retaking the class that you must meet. 

For example, the University of Illinois has a few requirements for students who failed and want to retake a course. First, your F will remain on your transcript and be used when calculating your GPA as well as the grade you earn after you retake the course. 

But, there’s an option for you to retake the class you failed and replace your grade with the one from the retake. You mustn’t have previously retaken the course, you haven’t already retaken four classes, and you don’t have any academic integrity infractions. Grade replacement is a great option because the failed class doesn’t affect your GPA (source).

Make sure to study hard and pass the class when you retake it. Some schools won’t let you retake a class a second time, so stay focused.

What are the Implications of Failing a College Class?

You can and will bounce back from failing a class in college, but there are a few implications of failing the class that you need to understand, so you can remedy them if necessary. 

Three implications of failing a college course are that you won’t get credit for the class, your GPA will go down, and you’re at risk of losing your financial aid. We’ll explain them in more detail in this section.

No Credit for the Class

First, you won’t get credit for the class. If you need a certain class to graduate, you’ll have to retake it and pass it before graduating. And, oftentimes, classes are a prerequisite for other classes you need to take for your major. 

If you don’t pass certain classes, it may prevent you from registering and taking other classes that you need to graduate. If you wait too long to take and pass your prerequisites, it could delay your degree. 

Sometimes, you just need a general education course to graduate, like any math or English course. If you fail one of these classes, it won’t count towards your degree. But, since it’s a general requirement, you may have the option to take a different course for that general credit instead of retaking the one you failed. 

If you are not taking the class as a specific requirement or prerequisite, and you were taking it for fun, you do not need the credit to graduate. This is good since you do not need to retake or find a different course to take. But, you still have to pay for the class even though you get no credit for taking it.

Lower GPA

And, the failed class will lower your GPA since the GPA you get for the class is a zero when you fail. The more credits the class is worth, the more your GPA will decrease. The bigger decrease is because you get zero points for each credit hour for the class you failed. So, the more credits, the more GPA you lose. 

However, not all schools will use the failed class when calculating your GPA if you retake the class. For example, the Illinois Institute of Technology will record both grades on your transcript, but only the grade from the retaken class is used to calculate your GPA, whether the grade is better or worse (source). 

See our article Does Your College GPA Really Matter?

Loss of Financial Aid

Finally, your financial aid may be lowered or completely lost if you fail a class. Usually, your financial aid depends on your total GPA, so as long as you do well in your other classes, you shouldn’t have to worry about your financial aid being taken away. And, some schools will give you a semester to get your GPA back up before you actually lose your financial aid. 

For example, Eastern Michigan University has a variety of scholarships they give students, and they all have a GPA requirement ranging from 2.0 to 3.5. If your GPA falls below the minimum for your scholarship, it’ll be taken away.  

The Presidential Scholarship is the best scholarship, and the students who receive it must keep a GPA of 3.5 or above in addition to other requirements (source). If your GPA falls below 3.5, you’ll lose your scholarship. Other scholarships require GPAs to stay about 2.0 or 2.75, depending on the scholarship.

See Passing Grades in College: Understanding the Impact of a D

If you want to learn more about paying for college and maximizing your financial aid, read The Princeton Review Paying for College, 2022 (link to Amazon). This book will teach you how to maximize your financial aid, learn how to reduce your college costs, how to choose the right aid and avoid financial mistakes that can make college more expensive, and how to plan your finances for college and beyond.

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