How to get help when Failing College Classes

At some point in your college career, you may be faced with the difficult decision of what to do when it appears you may fail a course.  The first thing to understand is that you are not alone, and because of this fact there are a wide variety of options and resources available to help assist you.  The next important task you must accomplish is to let go of your fear or embarrassment over the situation and go get help. 

This means being honest, both with those who are in a position to advise, counsel, and educate you, and most importantly with yourself.  In order to get your grade back on track to pass the class, it is imperative  that you take a realistic look at where you stand and what you can honestly do to get your academic progress turned in the right direction.

The very first action you should take when you find out that you may be failing a class is to locate and then re-read the course syllabus.  There are always very valuable pieces of information on a professor’s syllabus about how grades in the class are determined. 

For example, you may be worrying about failing a class because you have done poorly on the quizzes or coursework, only to find out after giving the course syllabus a second reading that the final exam or a final project counts for over 60 percent or more of your total semester grade.  Circumstances like this would be enough to redeem yourself and achieve a passing evaluation in the course.  

Some classes even have a final presentation as the primary or even largest portion of your grade to complete the course.  If this is the case, then you know you will simply have to put much more effort into your test preparation, project, presentation, or study habits for the remainder of the semester.  The key thing to understand with taking this first step is that by checking the course syllabus you will get a clearer understanding of your ability to salvage your grade and pass the class.

If there is enough opportunity left for you to raise your performance before the final grade is determined at the end of the term, being honest with yourself about your dedication to getting the job done, and you are indeed able to rise to the occasion, then you should immediately proceed to the next step – get help. 

Once again, your syllabus will lend a hand in giving you the necessary information about where to start asking for assistance in your class.  Instructors typically include both their office hours and a phone number for you to reach them outside of the normal class hours of their courses.  A good way to start is to go see them in person during the office hours listed on the course syllabus.  At the university level, professors are typically very busy with research, writing, departmental meetings, and course preparation, but they do honor their office hours as a resource to their students. 

Graduate assistants and part-time instructors likewise have many other obligations to fulfill, so be respectful of their time and grateful for their assistance.  Take advantage of this time with your instructors in a smaller setting, usually either with a handful of other students seeking advice, or in some instances you may be fortunate to catch them at a time where they can devote their attention only to you.  Be completely honest with them from the beginning about why you are struggling to pass their class, and pay very close attention to all the advice they give you. 

Instructors are by nature drawn to education because they enjoy helping people learn, and they are much more responsive to students who show an active interest in truly learning what it is they are trying to teach.  Be specific, and ask your instructors directly what recommendations they have for you to improve your grade and pass the course. 

Most of the time your instructors will be understanding of the situation you are in and happy to advise you on more effective ways to improve your exam scores, enhance your study habits on the subject matter of the course, show you better ways of reviewing course materials, or simply how to take better notes in their class.  All of these will accomplish the dual goals of letting your instructors know you are giving it your very best effort to pass the class, and applying suggestions for better performance in the course.

Should you choose to continue trying to take the course, there are three more suggestions to help you get a passing grade.  One is, if you are able and not already doing so, simply begin sitting in the front row of the lecture or classroom.  This will help you focus your attention on the instructor and subject matter, allowing you to be engaged and without the distractions from other classmates sitting further back.  It also shows the instructor that you are really serious about doing your best to pass the class. 

Second, identify the students who are excelling in your class, and begin establishing a rapport with them.  Be direct in asking them for help and to get together outside of class if they are available.   As an example, if they are meeting for a study group in the library, ask them if they would mind if you join them.  Most of the time other students will be happy to oblige their fellow classmates.  You will benefit immensely from studying with other students who are really good at the subject with which you are struggling. 

Lastly, seek out a tutor in the subject you are taking by checking websites, school bookstores, the library, and school bulletin boards.  Private tutors often place announcements, cards, or bulletins in these places looking for students to work with.  You may have to pay for their services, but the price is almost always a lot less than the cost of retaking the course after failing it.  In some instances, the tutors do not charge a fee if they are doing it for charity or some form of academic credit.  Either way, a tutor can help you pass your class because this person knows the subject matter very well.

If you have tried all these suggestions, or if you checked the syllabus and found out there is no opportunity to improve enough in time to pass the course, then it is advisable to immediately look into your options on withdrawing from the class. 

This must be done immediately, as many courses have dates beyond which withdrawal is no longer possible.  First, go directly to your school counselor or academic adviser to find out if you are eligible for withdrawal and what, if any, impact it could have on your financial aid or grade point average. 

If financial aid is a crucial factor for you, then go to your course’s primary instructor and ask if this person will agree to give you an “Incomplete” for your evaluation.  This will allow you to retake the course without paying the tuition and fees for it a second time.  You will have to present a compelling and legitimate reason for receiving an “Incomplete” grade, laziness or not understanding the teacher’s accent will not suffice. 

Many instructors do not mind giving you an “Incomplete” and allowing you to take the course with them again, although some are tougher than others on the reasons for giving such a student evaluation.  If the professor agrees, you will likely have to meet with the dean or administrator of the school to receive approval.  The endorsement of your instructor is usually the key factor in the dean or administrator accepting your request. 

If all else fails, you can formally withdraw from the class to avoid receiving a failing grade.  This is a more costly route, but much better than having a failing grade on your transcript. 

Dealing with failing a class is a difficult and uncomfortable experience, but one that must be confronted quickly and directly to avoid an even worse outcome. 

The two most important things to remember are to be completely honest with yourself and others about your ability to put forth the hard work to pass the class, and to never give up on yourself, always keeping your head up and give it all you can to find a resolution.  You are already taking the first step toward a solution.