So You Bombed Your First College Paper, Now What?

Chances are, you’re going to make a few mistakes your freshman year of college. Maybe you blow all of your dining points on Starbucks lattes by Halloween. Or, maybe you ‘forget’ to do laundry for the first two months of college. Perhaps, a frat party (or two) doesn’t end how you expected.

And perhaps, you even get a few bad grades early on. Maybe a ‘B’ on a homework quiz here, a ‘C’ for class participation there–maybe even an ‘F’ on your first college paper.

Cue thoughts of the world ending!

All throughout high school, your English teachers loved your papers. Five paragraph format with a simple opening sentence that states the book title (italicized, of course) and author. The thesis statement followed, with three clearly stated body paragraphs. Oh, and adjectives galore.

But, then you get to college, and your professor puts a red slash through every extra detail you thought was important: every cookie-cutter topic sentence and every adjective. You can gather that the grade is not so hot. Time to drop out, right?

Wrong!  The truth is, it sucks to get a bad grade on one of your first college papers. It is especially crushing if you worked hard on it and weren’t expecting all that red ink crossing out your hard work. But, as my mother used to say, “Nothing is the end of the world, except for the end of the world.”

Life goes on and it is only your freshman year. You have four more years, filled with dozens (or dare we say hundreds, English majors) of papers in the future. You will have the chance to redeem yourself and if it’s any comfort, there are likely more papers that you’ll fail. It happens to the best of us.

But even after you’ve gracefully accepted defeat, there’s still a lingering question: How do I fix this? The answer to this question varies by professor. Here’s where those people-pleasing skills you learned from your summer job, scooping ice cream, come in handy: Walk up to your professor after class and make sure they’re aware, at the very least, that you’re disappointed with your grade.

Here’s one scenario: “Excuse me, Professor, I was wondering if you would be willing to meet with me to talk about my grade on the paper? I could come by after class or during your office hours. I know this paper didn’t go well, and I really want to know how I can improve in the future.”

Maybe you’re in a 300 person lecture and this isn’t possible, but it never hurts to talk to whoever decided your paper was trash and make them tell you why. It’s brutal to have someone pick apart your work in front of you, but it shows that you care. Bonus: It’ll make you a better writer so you’re not reading an article in a few months titled “So You Flunked WR120: Now What?”

There’s always a lot to learn from those freshman year mistakes: Spend dining points more wisely, do your laundry more often, and water and Advil are always your friends.

While it may be tempting to take your crappy paper and use it as evidence that you are a crappy writer, don’t let it discourage you. Remember that all professors are different and one person's F is another’s C+. You wouldn’t let a C+ ruin your life, would you?

At the end of the day, these are just letters on a screen. You are going to do great things in life and you are certainly not going to remember this grade a year from now.

Plus, think about the eventual triumph you’ll have when you’ve taken all this glorious advice and turned that bad grade into a glowing ‘A’ on your transcript. We know you can do it, so keep your head up (And seriously, don’t forget the Advil).


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