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 absolutely 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 is for you. Here are the first few 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 that professor to discuss your options and learn more about your current academic standing. While it may feel intimidating to chat one-on-one with a professor when you’re not doing very 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 help you talk out ideas for an essay or project. You can even ask them for other 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.

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 really difficult to balance classes, clubs, friends, and a job while also trying to find time to have fun and relax. It can be even more difficult navigating all of this during your first few semesters!

Remember to take care of your mental health even 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.”

Still 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, and it's worth it to 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, 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. Definitely make some friends in class and form a study group. 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 someone 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 otherwise help you out. Remember that there’s always strength in numbers! Having a support system will make your class experience seem less isolating.

Vassar College Junior Megan Wang also speaks to the importance of forming and maintaining good study habits throughout the semester, and particularly advocates 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 ore often than not they give me good suggestions and other sources to check out.”

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

Lastly, remember that your grades do not define you. Worst case scenario is simply 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!