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Don’t Panic – Here’s What to Do First When You Find Out You’re Failing a College Class

Many of us have been in a situation where despite countless nights of studying, stress, and rewriting papers, your grade just isn’t what you want it to be. It’s a scary and frustrating position to be in, but it’s not hopeless – even if it’s at the point where you’re at risk of failing a class.

If you’re worried that you might not pass all your courses this semester, this one’s for you. Here are the first steps you should take to get back on track and end the semester on a high note. 

Talk to your professor

The first thing that you need to do if you’re worried about failing a class is meet with the professor to discuss your options and learn about your academic standing. While it may feel intimidating to chat one-on-one with a professor when you’re not doing well in their class, remember that educators are there to support you!

Making time to talk to your professors outside of class is the first line of defense to show them you’re interested in doing well. Ask your professor for study tips before the next exam, or if they can talk out ideas with you for an essay or project. You can even ask them for resources such as extra credit opportunities, or previous students who have taken the class before you and might be able to offer some tutoring on the material. They can let you know where you went wrong on previous assignments, and more importantly, how to do better in the future.

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Figure out what your immediate options are

No matter how you’re doing in a class, it’s always helpful to know your options. That’s why a smart next step is to drop by your school’s registrar office or meet with an academic advisor.

Some questions you can ask include:

·     Is it possible to take the class pass/fail?

·     Do I need this class for my major?

·     Is it possible to drop the class and take it a different semester when I feel more prepared?

These are all important things to know, and this can help you make the most informed decision down the road. 

Related: 5 Ways to Deal with Your First Bad Grade in College

Remember to take care of yourself

Take a deep breath, recognize that you are not experiencing this alone and that you are going to be okay. College is hard and it can be difficult to balance classes, clubs, and friends while also finding personal time to relax. It can be even more difficult navigating all of this during your first few semesters!

Remember to take care of your mental health during times of extreme academic stress. Heather Phan Nguyen, junior at Vassar College, is a huge journaling advocate to reduce stress and stay focused. “Writing in my journal helps me navigate what I’m feeling, and I find that the process of articulating my emotions actively declutters my head and creates space for me to breathe; a respite from never-ending to-do lists and tasks,” says Ngyuen. “Journaling translates the chaos into words, with zero pressure and plenty of room to do whatever I want to do – whether it’s venting about my workload, making tiny revelations, or screaming about how cute my crush is.”

8eSrC43qdroStill feeling nervous about everything? Seek counseling! Talking about how you’re feeling can be really helpful no matter your academic standing. Many colleges offer free counseling and therapy sessions for students, so take advantage of it. If you’re not comfortable seeking therapy, know that talking out your feelings to anyone can be helpful: chat with a friend, phone your mom/dad, and remind yourself that you are not alone.

Form better study habits with a support system

If you’re not able to drop the class or you decide to stick it out, the next step is to form better study habits to finish off the semester strong. Get people’s phone numbers within the first few weeks of class if possible, so you’re able to contact them if you want to bounce ideas off of them when writing papers, clarifying homework answers, or studying together for exams.

If you can’t find anyone in your class to study with, another option is to find someone who’s majoring in the subject and see if they would be willing to tutor you or help you out. Remember that there’s always strength in numbers! Having a support system will make your class experience seem less daunting.

Vassar College junior, Megan Wang, also speaks to the importance of forming and maintaining good study habits throughout the semester, advocating for regularly attending your professors’ office hours. “Being abroad in Paris for the year has really made me appreciate how we have office hours at Vassar,” she notes. “Not only is a good way for professors to get to know you better and vice versa, it’s probably the best way to better understand what professors expect from you in their courses. I like to see a professor before I start writing a paper and more often than not they give me good suggestions and other sources to check out.”

Whether it’s studying with friends or regularly visiting your professor, it’s important you find the study habits that work best for you and maintain them throughout the semester.

Lastly, remember that your grades do not define you. The worst-case scenario is that you fail the class. It’s not ideal, but remember that it happens to the best of us, and there’s always the opportunity to do better next semester.

Pass or fail, you are going to be okay. You’ve got this!

Mary Retta is a junior at Vassar College studying International Relations and Women's Studies. Her writing has been featured in Broadly, i-D, gal-dem zine, and more. Aside from writing her passions include email and cartoons. To see more of Mary's writing and adventures, follow her on Twitter for a moderately good time!