5 Ways to Deal with Your First Bad Grade in College

Let’s be honest—college is not easy. Although classes may seem a bit more lax than they were in high school in terms of scheduling (goodbye, eight-hour school days!), there are plenty of factors in the college scene that can have a negative impact on your grade.

Whether it be spreading yourself too thin with clubs, socializing a little too much on the weekends, not spending enough time studying in the library, or just simply struggling with the class material, the most important thing to remember is that life happens, including a bad grade in college. But, don’t fret! We know that a bad grade isn’t fun in the slightest, so we’ve created a list of five ways to help you handle your first bad grade in college—because life goes on!

1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

We’ll start off with one of the more difficult parts. Your first reaction to receiving your first bad grade may be to beat yourself up a bit, because you know you can do better! While you may be feeling a little down, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect and bad grades can happen to the best of us. It doesn’t reflect who you are as a student just because a test, a project or even an entire class doesn’t go your way.

Bad grades in college happen sometimes!

Because it’s your first bad grade in college, it may come as a bit of a shock or a surprise—especially if you feel that you aren’t one to really earn bad grades in the first place. Again, it’s important to remember that college is an entirely different experience that doesn’t always go by the book, and that’s okay!

Hannah Harshe, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, stresses the same idea. “Work your hardest, and remember that in college, bad grades are part of the territory a lot more than they are in high school,” says Hannah.

Think of it this way: the less time you spend beating yourself up about a bad grade, the more time you can spend better preparing for improvement!

2. Take it as a learning experience

College isn’t just for learning about subjects like organic chemistry and art history! It’s also a place chock-full of life experiences that you’re constantly growing from, and earning your first bad grade is one of them. Perhaps the most positive way to look at the situation is to consider it as an important life lesson—it could serve as a blessing in disguise!

Reflect and take ownership to a bad grade when it's due

Maybe, just maybe, you could’ve spent a little more time studying in your class. Remember, it’s important to be honest with yourself and take responsibility when it’s due! Or maybe, your studying habits (or your habits in general) aren’t doing the trick, or the material just isn’t clicking. It’s possible that your body wasn’t prepared for the exam in terms of sleep, because as a college student, a full eight hours can be a rarity (though very essential for success in your classes).  

Jun Wang, an academic advisor and the Assistant Professor of Education at Carthage College, offers some insight into attributing your efforts to your grades.

“Some students struggle or don’t know how to attribute their effort to the exams," says Wang. "Whenever they get a bad grade they will blame the outside factors, like thinking ‘the instructor doesn’t like me’ or ‘I had bad luck.’ So, as the instructor, we need to make sure that we train [students] to make positive attributions, such as thinking ‘Ok, I did bad, maybe I didn’t study that hard,' or, 'I had questions and confusions but I didn’t ask my peers or the instructor, or maybe I need to improve my learning strategies or my preparation strategies.’” 

Use it as a way to learn more about which studying habits work best for you

Molly Crum, a recent graduate of James Madison University, took her bad grade as a sign to change her habits. “I took [my bad grade] as a sign that the way I was doing things before wasn’t working, so I studied earlier and in a different, more focused way before the next test,” says Molly. “I think meeting with the professor or other students in the class can be really helpful for people as well.”

Whatever the case may be, take a moment to reflect and use this bad grade as a learning experience. You may learn that in order to improve, you may need to consider adjusting a certain aspect of your life or two, such as studying more or in a different way entirely. Worst case scenario: the class isn’t your cup of tea, and if you’re just not doing well in the class at all, it may be best to part ways—something you can always speak to your advisor about!

Related: Should You Drop a Class? How to Decide Whether to Stick It Out or Drop It

3. Consider asking for help

A bad grade is just as much a learning experience as it is a signal to consider seeking out a helping hand. No one wants you to fail in college, so there are tons of resources you can use to your advantage to learn more about why you earned the grade that you did and how to better prepare for the future. Your professor, a teaching assistant, an advisor or a tutor are just some of the many people you can consult! Plus, many professors offer office hours where they’re open to discussing your grade, and will sometimes even go as far as to let you retake things like a quiz or a test you weren’t satisfied with.

Seek out your resources, such as tutoring or some extra guidance from your professor

“I was really stubborn about speaking with my professors and accepting help from a tutor when I failed my first test in college,” says Emma*, a junior at Carthage College. “Finally, I came to terms with the fact that asking for help isn’t a sign of stupidity or failure. It only means that you care about your education and learning from your mistakes!”

There's no shame in asking your professors for help as well. Wang suggests talking to your professor as well as your peers to help clear up any confusion you may have. “I would advise students that for the future, if you have any questions relating to a study [guide], go to your professor or talk to your peers. From an instructor's perspective, if a student comes to me, then maybe next time I will do some preventive measures.” Talking to your professor about your confusion with an exam or a quiz may lead them to approach their instruction in a different way to better prepare you for future exams! 

When in doubt, consider extra credit

Extra credit another option to consider. Say it's nearing the end of the semester and your grade is on the borderline from a B to C and so on; you can always meet with your professor to discuss the possibility of extra credit to help balance out a bad grade. It helps to become familiar with their policies of extra credit at the beginning of the semester, but it doesn't hurt to ask!

Asking for help isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day, it’s a part of taking control of your life in college. Being proactive about your grades and taking corrective measures against the bad ones will only help you moving forward!

4. Use it as your motivation

Your first bad grade in college can stir up a whirlwind of emotions such as anger, guilt and sadness. Rather than succumbing to these emotions and feeling down, why not spin it the other way around and get fired up and motivated? One of the best ways to handle a bad grade is to use it as fuel for your next quiz or exam. Life is too short to get hung up on one bad grade, and since your college years may go by faster than you can blink, it’s best to make the most of your time in your classes, learn from the grade you received and get pumped up for your next opportunity to earn a better one.

“I got a 4/10 on a quiz the other day and hung it up on the fridge!” Hannah adds. “That's a reminder that no matter how badly I fail, I'm still so lucky to go to college and learn so much and get an education, and I just want to keep working to make the most of it!” 

Sometimes, failure pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves better than our successful moments do!

Related: What to Do If You’re Failing a Class

5. Learn to embrace the “failure”

Speaking of failure, repeat after me: I am not a failure. Regardless of what that letter or number reads in red ink at the top of your assignment, one grade does not constitute a complete failure. Although everyone has a different definition of what counts as a “failure,” the important thing to realize is that you acknowledge the fact that you’re capable of more.

One bad grade does not equal complete failure

Embracing the failure will allow you to accept what happened and move on knowing that the life skills you’ve learned from the experience can take you way further than the questions on your quiz. Most of the time, your professors care way more about what you’ve learned from the class out of experience rather than what your letter grade says you’ve learned.  

“Learning how to embrace failure and move forward is probably one of the most important lessons I'll get in college, because I'll never have to know the dates of the Haitian Revolution for my career but I have no doubts that I'll have to know how to move forward from inevitable failure,” Hannah explains.

Plus, embracing your first bad grade in college doesn’t always mean that you have to accept your bad grade, because that’s not always the case. Challenge yourself to improve your grade and don’t accept anything less than your best effort!

Sometimes, we take hard Ls in life, especially when it comes to college academics. Getting your first bad grade in college doesn’t mean you’re a total fail, however. All it means is that you’re better equipped to handle your grades in the future and take them into your own hands!

*Name has been changed

About The Author

Amanda is a senior at Carthage College double majoring in Communications and Public Relations. She is originally from Chicago, Illinois, which she can confirm is indeed a Windy City. When she's not at cross country or track & field practice, she can be found obsessing over pizza, watching dachshund videos on Facebook, or enjoying the Lake Michigan view on campus. She is also the Editor in Chief for her college's team on The Odyssey.