How College Students Can Learn From Failing a Class

Getting a poor mark in a college course isn't the end of the world if you learn from the experience.

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Regardless of the good intentions of college students, sometimes things happen. At the end of the semester, the great grades you wanted to get have turned into one—or more—failing grades. How can you turn this negative into a positive?

Here are several things to consider:

1. Check on financial aid: First and foremost, any student who has failed a college course needs to understand the consequences. If you've failed one or more classes, your financial aid may be affected. Check with your financial aid office to see if your financial aid package is going to change and, if so, what options you have.

[See how poor grades can affect renewing college scholarships.]

2. Revisit your class schedule: You'll need to check with your academic adviser as soon as possible. If you've failed a course in a series—say, Chemistry 101—you might need to change what you're registered for this semester (since you won't be eligible to take Chemistry 102). And, as every college student knows, classes fill up quickly, so getting this semester's schedule in order should be on the top of your to-do list.

3. See about your major: You'll also need to check with your adviser about any consequences you may be facing in your major. Is your department OK with your failing a class, especially if that failed class is one you need for graduation? If you need to retake the class over the summer, for example, will your department allow those credits to transfer if you need them for your major? Or must you pass specific classes at your institution in order to receive credit for them?

[Learn about some hot college majors.]

And once you have the logistics worked out, it's definitely time to reflect on the larger lessons. OK, you failed a class. Where do you go from here? What can you take away from the experience so that it doesn't happen again?

4. Be truthful: Be honest with yourself about why you failed the class. True, you may have had a professor who wasn't the best. But did you go get tutoring, look into switching into a different lab section or lecture with another professor, or find a study group to work with so that you could all review the material that might not have been presented clearly in class? Did you go to the campus writing center to have someone look over your papers or lab reports before you turned them in for a grade?

5. Consider other influences: Take some time to reflect on what external factors might have had an impact on your poor academic performance. Were you too committed to activities, such as a cultural club or fraternity/sorority, and didn't leave enough time for your classes? Did you simply spend too much time socializing, thinking you could just study the night before for a major exam—only to be proven wrong?

What kinds of challenges presented themselves to you when it came to doing better academically? And what can you do to prevent those challenges from arising again and make sure that, if those challenges do come up, you're better prepared to refocus your energy and attention on your classes?

[Get 13 tips for prepping for your next test.]

An ideal college experience presents the opportunity for you to learn as much outside of the classroom—about yourself, about other people, and about the larger world—as inside of the classroom. And yet it's important to keep your eye on the main goal: graduation.

While college may be the time of your life, the experience will be cut short if you aren't making satisfactory academic progress. Focusing on your classes and knowing where the challenges lie are critical for turning a bad semester into a blip on your radar screen instead of a pattern that may prevent you from graduating.

Did you fail a class this term? If so, what was the biggest reason? What are you going to change this semester so it doesn't happen again? Share your experience and advice with other readers in the comments section below.


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