Failing College? 20 Things You Can Do To Overcome It

Whether you have just failed a major test, currently failing a class, or failing an entire semesters worth of classes, here are 20 ways to you can bounce back from a failure in college.

Unfortunately, some college students will face failure at one time or another. For some students, this setback will lead them to drop out of college.

In fact, 40% of undergraduate college students drop out of college according to EducationData.org.

But dropping out of college is not your only option if you are failing college.

If you are struggling to maintain a passing grade in a single class or even a handful of classes, there are several strategies you can use to overcome failure in college.

In today’s blog post, we are discussing 20 things you can do to overcome failure in college.

But generally speaking, if you are failing in college, you need to seek out help immediately from your professor(s), an academic advisor, tutor, or another trustworthy adult who can help you pinpoint your trouble areas, help you create an action plan to improve your grades and study habits, and hold you accountable.

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20 Things To Do If You Are Failing College

1. Rethink your study plan

The first step to overcoming failure in college is to take a look back at your study plan and make adjustments to it.

What is a study plan? A study plan is a plan you create at the beginning of the semester to help you navigate the semester and stay on track. It should include your assignment deadlines, dates for tests and quizzes, and a list of what you should be doing each day to meet those due dates.

If you find that your study plan is not allowing you enough time to thoroughly study all of the content for a quiz or a test, maybe give yourself a day or two more in your study plan and see if this improves your grades.

If you are finding yourself not committing to or overwhelmed by your study plan, then maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board and giving yourself less to do each day or scheduling time to study on the weekends, which you may typically use for hanging out with friends or relaxing.

2. Meet with your professor(s)

If you are struggling in a college class, you need to talk to your professor ASAP.

Why? Because no one knows more about your classes and how to succeed in it than the professor who is teaching it.

Most, if not all, professors are required to have set office hours (virtually or in-person) where they meet with their students to address their questions and/or concerns.

Your professor’s office hour information can usually be found in your class syllabus that was reviewed during the first week of school. However, if you are unable to find it, you can send them a quick email for clarification.

When visiting your professor during their office hours, come with specific questions like:

  1. I would like to review the test from last Thursday. Could you help me pinpoint what concepts or types of questions I had difficulty with on this last test?
  2. Could you quickly review the concept about using a probability distribution table? I’m having a hard time understanding how to use the values to solve this problem.

Unfortunately, your professor does not have the time to reteach you an entire lecture’s work of content during their office hours, but they can address any gaps in your learning and review specific practice problems or concepts.

They can also help you understand how they word their test or quiz problems and provide useful study tips.

Also, by going to your professor’s office hours, you are showing that you care about their class and your grades, which may help you at the end of the semester if you improve your grades enough to be on the border of a higher grade and you ask for a grade bump (e.g., you have a 79 in the class and are asking to be bumped to an 80 to get a B).

3. Reflect on your current situation

College is tough, life is tough, and sometimes the two don’t go hand and in hand.

Before you start beating yourself up about your grades, pause for a second and think about your current situation.

How are you doing…

  • Emotionally
  • Mentally
  • Financially
  • Relationship-wise

If you are struggling with feelings of overwhelm, dealing with mental-health issues, like anxiety or depression, currently have an unstable financial situation, or experiencing a rocky relationship with your significant other, a family member, or even a roommate–all of these factors (and more) can contribute to low grades.

Perhaps you need to:

  • Seek out professional help to learn how to cope with these stressors.
  • Withdraw from a class or two to lessen to academic load while these rocky times in your life work themselves out.
  • Use the emergency withdraw option.

At the end of the day, college is not the end all be all to your success in life. So take of yourself first and then come back to college when you are ready.

4. Meet with your academic advisor

Although your college professor(s) should be the first person of contact when you are failing a class in college, you’ll want to also talk to your academic advisor to go over your options.

Your academic advisor can go over in more specific details about how your GPA and or financial aid would be impacted if you get a less than a stellar grade or end up withdrawing from the class.

5. Reassess your major or minor

Sometimes bad grades can be because of a bad fit between you and your chosen college major or minor.

For example, if you are trying to do a pre-med track, but biology is kicking your butt, maybe pre-med is not the best major for you.

Or if you are bored by the material in your statistics courses that you need to take for the statistics minor, it can be hard to stay motivated to study and get the grades you know you are capable of getting. In that case, it may be best to change your minor to something more exciting and fulfilling for you.

If you think changing your major or minor would help your grades, again, speak with your academic advisor to get a better idea about how a change in your major or minor would impact your graduation and the classes you would be required to take.

6. Use your assignment feedback strategically

Many professors write feedback on your course assignments, tests, and quizzes to help you improve for next time.

However, it can be difficult to muster up the confidence to read the feedback on an assignment or test/quiz you did not get a good grade on. I mean, no one likes to read bad things about themselves, right?

I honestly used to have my boyfriend or twin sister read my assignment feedback to me because I would get so anxious thinking about what my professor’s feedback could be.

Although it may feel like it, the feedback your professors provide is not to nitpick at you or make you feel worse.

Instead, it is there to help you strategize for the next assignment or assessment to get a better grade. So take their feedback to to heart and make sure to implement it the next opportunity you get. It will pay off and your professor will take notice.

7. Find a tutor

Asking for help can be difficult, especially if you are an A or B student now suddenly getting C’s and D’s in your college classes.

However, finding a good tutor can make a huge difference in your grades by helping you understand difficult concepts in your classes and learn new study techniques.

If your professor has an undergraduate teaching assistant, start by reaching out to them for help because should know your course material best and how to best survive the course, since most likely, they were once in your shoes a semester or two ago.

If your class does not have an undergraduate teaching assistant, then look for other tutoring options on campus.

Most university’s have specific, free-to-access tutoring centers for writing, math, and other subjects that have peer-tutors waiting and ready to help students succeed in their classes.

These peer tutors are usually upper-level undergraduate students, or even graduate level students, who have had to meet a certain GPA requirement and already taken the course you are struggling in order to become a tutor for that subject.

Alternatively, you can ask your professor for any previous students they have had that could tutor you.

Or you can seek off-campus tutoring and ask for recommendations from friends on Facebook or do a quick Google search for local tutors for the subject or class you are having difficulty with. However, off-campus tutoring may be more expensive than on-campus tutoring (which is usually free).

Finally, if you’re having a difficult time finding a tutor or simply do not have enough time in the day to attend tutoring sessions, then consider using a service like Chegg Study.

Chegg Study is a service by Chegg that offers full textbook solutions and online tutoring in every subject imaginable!

I started using Chegg Study in graduate school when I found myself really struggling in my Statistical Methods class. For my Stat Methods class, I found it to be extremely difficult to find worked out solutions to problems my professor had recommended us to practice for our quizzes.

So, I invested in myself and my education and got a monthly subscription to Chegg Study. By Chegg Study, I can find step-by-step worked out solutions for challenging textbook problems. It’s helped improve not only my grades in my Stat Methods class, but also my confidence as a student. So if you’re interested in trying Chegg Study you can click right here.

8. Find a new study location

When it comes to getting the most out of your study sessions in college, quality > quantity.

And if your current study space is not providing you a productive space to learn, it may be time to find a new study location.

For example, if you are currently studying in a noisy environment (i.e., the TV is turned on, you have lyrical music in the background, or your roommates are chit chatting all the time), you may be better off finding a quiet spot in the library to study.

You’d be surprised how much more information you are able to retain and understand just by moving to a more productive and quiet study location.

If finding a new study location is not possible for you, try changing up the time of day that you are studying. So instead of studying late at night, try early in the morning when your brain is more awake than at 11 PM at night.

9. Withdraw from the classes you are failing

Sometimes, withdrawing from the class(es) you are failing is the best solution for your current situation.

Withdrawing can allow you to focus on your other classes and prevent your GPA from being damaged.

However, there are two caveats you need to consider:

  1. Make sure you withdraw BEFORE or ON the withdraw without academic penalty deadline.
  2. Depending on the class you are withdrawing from, consider the fact you will need to retake the class the following semester in order to graduate.

In regards to #1, you NEED to be aware of what day you withdraw.

Colleges and universities have cut-off date when you can withdraw from a class without hurting your GPA. This is called the withdraw without academic penalty deadline.

For example, if your university’s deadline to withdraw without academic penalty is October 8th you have from the day drop/add ends until 12:59 PM on October 8th to withdraw from the class and receive a “W” (withdraw) in it.

A “W” will not impact your GPA, but it will be on your college transcript.

However, if you withdraw from the class after October 8th, you will receive a “WF” (withdraw with an F) and you will receive not only a WF on your transcript, but your GPA will be penalized harshly. By withdrawing after the deadline, you receive an F in the class.

If the deadline to withdraw without academic penalty has passed, you need to stay in the class you are failing.

You need to continue fighting for your grade because getting a WF is not the best solution if there is the chance you could get a D or even a C in the class.

Alternatively, if there are things occurring in your life that are out of your control, like a family or medical emergency that is causing your grades to suffer, then look into an emergency withdraw through your university.

In regards to #2, understand that if you withdraw from a class you need to take and pass in order to graduate, you will need to retake that class in the future.

This can be upsetting, but when you retake the class, you will hopefully have a better understanding of the course’s expectations, you can approach the course content with fresh eyes, and if able, take it with a different professor too.

10. Do a time audit

Perhaps the reason why you are struggling to maintain your grades in college is because you are not using your time wisely.

In college, there are many distractors such as extracurricular activities, demanding hours from work, or friends who want to constantly hang out. All of these things can take time away from your studies, and as a result, lead you to have bad grades.

Remember first and foremost, you are in college to get an education.

Your social life (clubs, extracurriculars, friends, etc.) comes second, or third, if you absolutely need a job while in college to keep yourself financially afloat.

Second, you may want to conduct a time audit for a week or two to see where you are spending your time and then adjust accordingly to make more time for studying and working on your assignments for your classes.

To conduct a time audit, you can write down in a notebook, a journal, or keep a spreadsheet, and write down every hour what you are doing.

Or you can automate the process by using an application, like RescueTime (they have a free lite version), to track how you are spending your time on the computer.

If you have an iPhone, it also comes with Screen Time tracking to track how much time you are spending on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Once you have completed your time audit, take a look at your results. If you are finding yourself spending 3 hours a day watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, it is time to change your habits and use that time towards studying and improving your grades.

11. Talk to a counselor

Your mental and emotional health can impact your grades.

If you are finding your grades dropping, and this is unusual for you, it could be because of depression or anxiety and it may be best for you to seek out psychological counseling at your university.

Many colleges and university’s offer free individual and group psychological counseling for students.

Going to counseling can help you learn coping skills, recognize negative thinking patterns, and be a time for you to vent in an unbiased, nonjudgmental, and safe space.

If you are nervous about starting counseling at your college or university, you can ask a friend to come with you and sit with you while you wait for your first appointment.

I personally had my sorority little come with me to my first counseling appointment, and she helped me stay calm and not feel so alone before my first counseling appointment.

12. Find a study group

For some classes, it can be hard learning on your own.

In that case, finding a good study group can help you learn difficult concepts from multiple perspectives, stay motivated, and hold you accountable.

However, you need to be cautious about which study group(s) you join as some can be really beneficial, but others can actually hurt you more in the long-run.

You’ll want to find a study group with students who are:

  • Focused
  • Driven to succeed
  • Have the desire to truly learn and understand the material
  • Able to explain concepts in “plain English”
  • Uphold the academic integrity policy

You do not want to join a study group with students who are:

  • Unfocused
  • Complain about the professor the entire time
  • Use each other to cheat on assignments/tests
  • Chit-chat too much about unrelated topics
  • Are seeking the answers rather than actually learning and understanding the material

13. Find new study methods

If you did not receive the best results on a recent test or quiz, you may want to try a different study method and see if that will help you improve your grades.

For example, if you tried studying using flashcards and that didn’t work, try studying by teaching a friend or family member the material instead.

By teaching someone else the materials, you can pin point gaps in your learning a lot easier because if you can’t explain a concept in your own words to someone else, how would you be able to answer the questions on a test?

Alternatively, if you had to cram for your last exam, try using the Pomodoro Technique next time to spread out your studying into more digestable blocks of time.

14. Don’t give up

Although no one wishes to experience failure, you can’t let a single failed exam or quiz hold you back from finding success going forward.

To make it through college, you need to have resilience and you need quickly adapt to different styles of teaching, methods of grading, and formatting of tests and quizzes.

So it’s ok to get a grade back, be upset, mad, or angry, but don’t just throw in the towel and give up on the opportunity or experience to obtain a college education after one or several failures.

Instead, reflect, strategize, and figure out what you can do for the next assignment or assessment to improve your grades going forward. And use your resources, like your professors, academic advisors, and on-campus tutors, to your advantage.

15. Forgive yourself

It can be truly upsetting and embarrassing to receive a failing grade in college.

But as mentioned previously, you can’t let this moment of failure hold you back from earning a college degree.

Instead, you need to forgive yourself and give yourself grace especially if it was your first graded assessment or you were currently going through a rough patch in life.

Also remember that grades do not define your worth or your long-term success.

The skills you develop in college are way more valuable than the C you got in your elementary statistics class or the W you have on your transcript from your physics class.

16. Develop a growth mindset

Some college students will see their failures as something they can’t improve upon and thus, they won’t take action to improve their current situation. As a result, they will be in a never-ending cycle of failure and self-pity.

Instead of ending up in that situation, you need to develop a growth mindset and start thinking about your failures as learning opportunities.

When you allow yourself to learn from your failures, you are able to truly take action to overcome failure in college and receive not only higher grades, but become a better learner and student.

17. Develop a plan for future semesters

If you have experienced or are currently experiencing a rough semester, take some time to reflect and think about what you can do in future semesters to prevent this situation from happening again.

Whether that means scheduling in more time to study before a quiz or test, not stretching yourself too thin with commitments outside of school, or utilizing your on-campus resources more–there’s always a way you can make your future semesters better and easier on yourself.

18. Come to terms with having to retake the classes

When you fail a class in college, particularly one that is required for your major or minor, you will need to retake that class in the future in order to graduate.

It can be hard to think about going through the same class for the second time and relearning the material only to potentially fail again.

But instead of thinking of it like that, think about it as a second chance, a second opportunity to approach the material with a better study method and understanding of how your will be assessed on your knowledge of the material.

You could even try taking the course with a different professor or take the class in the summer when the workload may not be as heavy versus during the fall or spring semesters.

19. Take the course at a different college

This one can be quite involved, but if you are struggling with a particular class at your university, try taking the course, or an equivalent course, at a community college.

You’ll first need confirmation in advance that the credits will transfer over to your primary university, but taking the class at a community college can save you not only money, but provide you the attention and resources you need to succeed in the class.

This may be especially true if the class you are failing at your regular university has large class sizes and it is difficult for you to get the 1-on-1 attention you need from your professor in order to succeed.

EducationCorner.com also mentions the idea that community college professors may be better at teaching students than professors at universities. This is because community college professors are hired to teach and solely teach whereas university professors are hired to do research and teach.

Also, understand not all university professors have a teaching degrees or experience in teaching.

To become a university professor, you need a Ph.D., not a degree in teaching or education, and therefore some university professors are great as researchers, but not the best at teaching or at helping students become better learners.

And while this can be a hard fact to swallow, know there are tons of resources on campus–like tutors, study groups, and other professors–to help you get through your classes with less than stellar professors.

20. Consider taking a gap semester or a break from college

College, although a great opportunity for many, is not for everyone. And if you started college right after high school, it can be difficult to adapt to the rigors of the college classroom environment.

So instead of trudging your way to a degree, it may be best to take a gap semester or break from college to work, reassess your goals and intentions for going to college, and then return to college with fresh eyes and new determination to succeed.

Concluding thoughts on failing college and how to overcome it

Failing college is not something any college student would wish upon themselves. But if you have found yourself in this sticky situation and are struggling with your grades in college, know that you have options and opportunities to overcome this setback.

In today’s blog post, we discussed 20 things you can do to overcome failure in college, and I hope you will take each of these options into consideration as you create your own game plan to improve your grades.

And just know that I believe in you and your ability to improve your grades. And simply by reading this blog post, you are taking the right steps towards improving your grades and showing your efforts to becoming a better learner and student.

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