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What Happens If You Fail a Class in College? Hint: You Will Live


If you’re reading this, you may be on the verge of failing a class or the damage has already been done. Perhaps you haven’t even started college, but you’re anxious about what could happen. Asking “what happens if you fail a class in college?” is an all-too-common question.

While it’s ill-advised and can have negative consequences, it also doesn’t signal the end of the world. Let’s take a look at the effects of failing a college class, plus some ways to mitigate the outcome.

Woman biting a pencil while studying at laptop to avoid failing in college

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Outcomes and Consequences of Failing

Failing a class in any grade, especially college, is far from optimal. However, it may sometimes be out of your control as a result of extenuating circumstances. Maybe you have health issues or family troubles. You could be working and balancing studying with your job. Or you might have simply given up on trying. The reason why you fail is important to know, because if it’s in your control, you can change things. But, in any event, there are consequences of failing.

Here’s what you need to know if it happens:

1. GPA

Your GPA is your grade point average. It’s calculated by assigning a numerical value to each letter grade you earn and dividing that by the total number of classes you take. To exemplify, an A=4, B=3, C=2, and D=1. This means that receiving a fail (or F) gives you a zero. Yet, the class is still included when you divide by your total number of courses taken. As such, a fail can really cause your GPA to plummet.

While your college GPA may not be of utmost importance if you plan to enter the workforce directly upon graduation, it is a big deal for those wanting to go to graduate school.

If you’ve selected to take a course “pass/fail” or “pass/no pass”, rather than receiving a letter grade, then failing won’t be counted into your GPA. However, you will have to retake the class. In most cases, if it’s a course required for your major, you won’t be able to take it “pass/no pass” in the first place.

2. Retakes

If your class is required for your major and you fail it, you will have to take it again. However, each school’s policies differ in terms of retakes. Some colleges limit the number of times you can retake. Additionally, when you retake a class, some schools let the new grade replace the F, whereas others combine the scores.

3. Potential Dismissal

Because college tends to be highly competitive, institutions tend to have policies around failing classes. On the strict end, some schools might consider multiple failings as grounds for dismissal because it may signal you don’t take the education seriously or are unfit for the major.

4. Financial Aid

Grants and loans that offer financial aid for enrolled students tend to have their own policies regarding failing a class. So, if you fail, you could have to pay a grant back. Some grants have GPA requirements to continue receiving the aid. Additionally, some financial aid may be cut for the semester, but if you retake the class, it could be reinstated.

When it comes to scholarships, they may be merit-based, or contingent on your grades and academic achievement. Therefore, if you fail, you could lose the scholarship, or even worse, have to pay back any money that has already been issued.

University of the People’s Stance

At the University of the People, that is tuition-free in the first place, failing a class won’t have such detrimental financial consequences.

However, to complete the program, students must retake the course. Any repeated course will appear on a transcript, but only the highest grade will be counted to calculate the cumulative GPA.

Being Proactive: Can You Save the Grade?

It may not be too late to turn things around. If you are headed towards failing a class, don’t lose hope!

Try these ideas to help raise your grade or to ensure you do better next time:

1. Ask for help

Be sure to speak to your professor or adviser for alternatives to studying or better understanding the material.

2. Extra credit

Find out if you can perform any extra credit to raise your grade.

3. Tutor

Perhaps you need to consider hiring a tutor to better understand the information. You can also attend discussions or office hours if they exist.

No matter which way you choose to do better next time or avoid failing, understand why you failed. Be honest with yourself to figure out if the course material is just too hard or if you didn’t study hard enough. If you need more help, leverage resources like online guides. Be sure to hone time management and study skills.

The Next Step: Considerations

Beyond making yourself better prepared to do better when you retake the class, you should ask yourself bigger picture questions.

If you have failed already, consider if this major is right for you. Also, it may be worth talking to your parents and getting their feedback. Another option is to lean on your peers for assistance. If there’s something you do not understand, it’s possible that a classmate can better explain it to you. They may also be able to provide you with study tips and new ideas to help you along your educational journey.

Desk with notebook, laptop, and study supplies

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

In Conclusion: Don’t Freak Out

You may feel like freaking out if you have failed a course. But, keep in mind, you’re not the first to do so and you certainly won’t be the last.

When you fail a class, you can still graduate and your prospects are not over. Also, you’ve probably learned a lot from the experience. Not only will you understand how to study better and perform better the next time, but you will also learn a lesson in perseverance.

While the main goal is to avoid failing a class in college, it could happen. Even if you do fail, you can retake the class and ask for help. Although it will negatively impact your GPA and could affect your financial obligations, you can bounce back.

Start by asking for more help and studying differently or harder if you retake the course. Most importantly, don’t give up.