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You’ve Been Flunk’d! Now What?

You’ve Been Flunk’d! Now What?

Chris Diehl / FastWeb

“Failure paves the way to success!” is the last thing you want to hear when you fail a class. A bad grade isn’t life or death, and maybe you can improve the situation.

Remember, every school has their own policies, so check with your college to find out its policy for failed classes and withdrawals.

Situation 1: I feel an F coming. Help!

You don’t understand the material. You skipped classes. Whatever the reason, the withdrawal period has passed and you’re drowning. What are your options?

• Talk to your professor: Ask about extra credit or rewrites to improve your grade. Show that you want to succeed and you may get more leeway at the end of the semester.
• Visit your school’s academic counseling office: Counseling offices offer assistance with time management, tutoring and test preparation.
• Ask about tutoring: If available, enroll immediately. It might be possible to catch up in your class after a few one-on-one sessions. Ask your classmates for assistance: Ask to review notes from a day you missed or for help on a concept that they understand and you do not.

If you were out sick, “don’t just go back to class,” says Joyce Stern, dean for student academic support and advising at Grinnell College. “Ask the professor for an appointment to meet in the office hours to review some material that [you] might have missed.”

The problem won’t solve itself. “[Students] need to be honest with themselves about the evidence that’s coming in,” says Stern. “Have they missed a lot of class? Was their first quiz an F, their first test an F? Are they starting to become afraid to go to class?” Muster the courage to talk to your professor, crack open that book and salvage what you can.

Situation 2: I just failed. Can I wipe it off my record?

Dropping a class after the withdrawal deadline is difficult but possibly allowed if there’s a legitimate reason. Usually the reason is an extreme personal or health issue like a lengthy hospital stay or death in the family. Remember, these exceptions are for very serious situations, and you will need to present your case to be excused from the class.

If you feel you were treated unfairly or the professor made a mistake, talk to your professor first, but again, be prepared to state your case. Asking for a grade change without backup will get you nowhere. “Don’t go in there and say, ‘Hey prof, you’ve really screwed up here!’" says Dr. Fiona Cowie, associate professor of philosophy at the California Institute of Technology. "You want to say, ‘I’m really upset about this, I thought I was doing really well in this class, would you mind going over it with me so that you can be sure that there’s not been some mistake?’”

“Avoid approaching professors in an adversarial spirit, [which] only has a tendency to put [them] on the defensive and makes them less likely to meet you halfway,” says Philip Bean, dean for academic affairs at Haverford College, via email. Before you elevate the issue to the department head, the registrar’s office, or the dean of the faculty, find out the proper protocol.

Some colleges offer more palatable options than taking the F. You might retake the failed class and have the new grade supplant the F in your GPA (though the F will probably remain on your transcript). While your school may offer other ways to minimize the damage to your GPA, the important thing is to research your options and decide on the best choice based on your college’s policy.

Situation 3: OK, I messed up. How do I prevent this from happening again?

“To expunge a poor grade that has been correctly assigned would be to tell the world something that is not truthful,” says Bean. “Just as we expect other institutions and our students to be truthful with us, we feel obligated to be comparably truthful with the world.” If you received an F because you earned it, no reputable college is going to wipe that grade away. Ask yourself: Why did I fail?

• I didn’t manage my time well.
• I had no idea what the professor was talking about.
• I skipped a week of class.
• I didn’t do the homework.
• I thought I could ace the tests without studying.

“The hardest part of finding solutions is identifying the problems that caused the academic troubles,” says Stern. “Was it procrastination, avoidance of something they found too difficult, addiction to their computer games or the Internet? Students should look closely at which of their behaviors were most problematic for them, and then try to find ways to not fall into the same bad habits again.”

“The bottom line,” she says, “[is that] sometimes students just have to learn the hard way and figure things out for themselves. Ultimately, it’s up to them to just do it.”


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