Flunking a college course
October 17, 2006 8:38 PM   Subscribe

Flunking a college course, what to do?

I am a non-traditional (old) student who is roughly in her Freshman year as far as credits go. Up until now I have had almost a 4.0 GPA. This term however, I am taking anatomy and physiology, molecular biology and an algebra course. All the sudden I find myself getting C's in A/P and am totally lost in molecular biology. It's too late to withdraw PLUS this is all being paid for with Pell Grants. So what happens to me if I fail a class? Should I try for an incomplete? Will the Pell people make me pay them back ASAP or just not help me next term? I'm freaking out and my school advisers have been anti-helpful.
posted by yodelingisfun to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It all depends on your school's policy. If you fail a class, it shows up on your transcript and drags your GPA down. I don't think Pell is based on academic performance, and it's a grant, so you don't pay it back (basically a gift from the federal government).

I doubt you could go for an incomplete, I would think that most schools require some extenuating circumstance for that to apply. If I were you, I would get a tutor and study like hell. If you are on the semester system, there's still about 1/2 a semester to go-things can be turned around. If you're on the quarter system, there's probably still time. Don't panic. And if you fail a class, you retake it (if you need it/really want to learn). Lots of people do it. Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:51 PM on October 17, 2006

This is exactly what your school advisors are supposed to be there for. If they've not been helpful, you ought to ask the department for a new advisor ASAP.

It'll be hard for any answers on AskMeFi to be helpful since this type of thing differs greatly from school to school. For example, at my school (UCSC), it was pretty much the standard for profs to give incompletes to anyone who requested them, allowing makeup work the next quarter. However, at my wife's school (UCD), incompletes were virtually unknown. So you really need a good advisor who can help you through this.

Good luck!
posted by jacobian at 8:52 PM on October 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't panic. Go talk to your profs or the Dean of Students, or whoever the relevant contact person would be. Is there someone who's in charge of nontraditional students at your school? Is there a student group for nontraditionals -- they might have ideas about who to talk to.

First, you need to talk to the profs to see what you can do. It's the middle of the term, there's still hope. (Maybe you can make up assignments? Get extra tutoring help? Some profs will cut a deal to raise your grade if can pull up your grades for the rest of the term? worst-case scenario, some special consideration to allow you to withdraw?) You will not be the first person they have seen in this situation, and most of them will want to help if you make clear that you're not asking for a free lunch, but are willing to work to make the situation better.

Talk to the Dean of Students, especially if there's a Dean for the Freshman Class; they are usually very nice and helpful in situations like this. In most schools, they *want* you to succeed in school, so they can sometimes help bend rules to help you out. Failing that, they'll have answers about the Pell grants.

And if all this doesn't work, call up the Pell people directly and ask them what are the consequences of withdrawing or failing a course.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:53 PM on October 17, 2006

Things I would try:

First, double-check your student handbook and make sure it isn't too late to withdraw. At the university where I used to teach, students could still withdraw after midterm, but their grade was marked either WP (withdrew with a passing grade) or WF (withdrew failing). WF's counted as a zero on GPA, but WP's didn't count one way or the other. Be sure you don't have some kind of option like that.

It would also be worth finding out what happens if you fail a course and retake it. Some schools do grade replacement, where the better grade is the only one that shows up. At others, the original F always appears on your record.

But the first thing to do is talk to your professors. They are normally pretty sympathetic. They might be willing to work with you to help you improve your grade before the term ends. I had a semester in grad school where I was completely crashing and burning in one class mainly due to distractions from personal concerns. That prof let me basically start fresh after the midterm and only count my grades in the second half of the class. You might not get that lucky, but taking to the prof in person and expressing your desire to learn and finish well can only help you.

I don't know anything about how it will affect your Pell Grants, but someone in the financial aid office will be able to give you a definitive answer.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:59 PM on October 17, 2006

Good comments! Clear and frequent communication with your instructors is key to success in college.

You'd be surprised at how accommodating some professors can be if you just communicate honestly with them, especially if you are an older student.
posted by Willie0248 at 9:06 PM on October 17, 2006

Talk to your professors.

I cannot stress this strongly enough.

Teachers are there to help you, and hate seeing people fail. Swallow your pride and tell them "Help, I'm lost. Can you suggest ways that I can learn the material better? Other resources that can bring me up to speed?"

Use the office hours and tutoring that are likely available from your school.

But most of all talk to them. They're reasonable people who want to help you out and will - but only if they know you.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:14 PM on October 17, 2006

I don't know exactly what the grade requirements for your funding are, and it would seem neither do you. That might be something to look into. My guess, though, is that you can fail a class and still get funding. Totally no reason to trust me on that. It's a 'feeling,' which, according to my fiance, is also the same as 'total bullshit.'

I'm also guessing here, but it would appear you're premed or some such, heading towards grad school. If this is the case, then naturally do whatever is going to keep your grades up. However, and this is where you should start listening to my 'feeling,' if you aren't headed towards grad school, then screw the grades -- no one gives a rat's ass after you get out (OK, that might be exagerating, I'm sure in some jobs it might be important, and I'm sure AskMeFi'ers will tell us down below what those careers are). Just keep going to class, communicate with the professors, and don't stress out about keeping your gpa perfectperfectperfect. It's like your weight -- as long as you fall within a general range, then it's all good.

But that's just my 'feeling' about your situation.
posted by incessant at 9:17 PM on October 17, 2006

LobsterMitten, as always, has good advice in these matters. Another thing to look in to: many schools now have a system whereby if you fail a course, you can retake it, and while the F stays on your transcript, it doesn't affect your GPA if you take the course again and do better.

Also, you say withdrawal isn't an option but I can't imagine the final drop date has passed yet -- it's only mid-term. Why not drop a course and lighten your load?
posted by ontic at 9:26 PM on October 17, 2006

Can you switch one or more classes to pass/fail (instead of getting a letter grade)? I mean, you'd still have to pass them, but it would take the pressure off of getting a good letter grade.
posted by sad_otter at 10:06 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: I only say no withdrawal because i called and asked the financial aid office and that lady said if I went below 12 credits then I would immediately have to pay back half the grant and frankly that is money I do not have. I asked the prof if I could do a pass/fail and he said sure but now I'm thinking I may not be able to pull that off since pass has to be a C-. I have never failed at anything before especially school related and now I just feel awful. I will try again to get some advisement by Friday, I was just looking to see if anyone had general advice. So if you know some secret to "getting" molecular biology really really quick, that would be cool....sigh. Thanks everyone.
posted by yodelingisfun at 10:15 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: Oh and it's pre-nursing so grades do matter....
posted by yodelingisfun at 10:16 PM on October 17, 2006

Above all, don't panic. I had some close calls in college, academically speaking, but it's almost always possible to find a way to pull through. As a rule, your professors have no reason to want you to fail, so talk to them. In fact, I've had professors approach *me* when they thought I was having trouble.

Note to others: although it may still be possible to drop a course, this might drop her below some sort of minimum course load.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:23 PM on October 17, 2006

Oops, missed the comment by the poster.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:24 PM on October 17, 2006

Good! It sounds like you've gotten the ball rolling toward a solution.

So, next step, extra tutoring and help in molecular biology. Going to office hours, making it clear to the prof that you are doing absolutely everything in your power to do ok in the class. Tutoring etc in AP to see if you can bring the grade up to a C+ or B-. You've caught this early enough that it sounds very manageable (with hard work).

You're taking three hard courses, and you're going back to school after, I'm guessing, a long break. This is a hard thing you're doing. You should not be ashamed to need some help with it. Most people have some trouble like this in their first year of university-level schooling, even people who are intelligent and hard-working, and people who don't have full adult lives with jobs, kids, partners, rent, etc to worry about. There is nothing to be ashamed of here; in fact, you should feel good that you're standing up and taking the active steps to get the help you need. Many people are not able to do that. You will do okay, so long as you don't give up -- keep meeting with profs and TAs and tutors who are there to help you, maybe make a study group with others in the same class, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 PM on October 17, 2006

Another vote for talking to the prof and an academic counselor. Also check whether there's a service at your college for re-entry/older students. Colleges recognize that adult students usually have a lot more competing demands to deal with than the average 18 year old, so they usually try to offer extra services, like tutoring, to help make it possible for you to graduate. Take advantage of everything that's on offer.

Find out when the final drop deadline is anyway, and then check the course schedule for any late-start classes or independent study options. It's really common to use one of these to fill a few missing units to round out the units needed for financial aid. (Heck, it essentially why those classes are offered in the first place.) You'd be swapping one of the hard classes for something lighter, giving you the critical time needed to focus on passing the remainder.

Even if you need to drop below 12 units, you shouldn't have to give half of the Pell back. Call to confirm this, but I could swear that it was prorated based on whether you're enrolled full-, 3/4-, or 1/2-time. So dropping one class might cost less than you think, especially if it allows you to get the full benefit of your investment in the other 9 units...

Finally, don't panic if you do fail a class or two. It's not necessarily permanent. e.g. Some schools will allow you to repair your GPA by re-taking the class; new grade magically replaces old grade.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:59 PM on October 17, 2006

You are in a tricky situation because you are pre-nursing. I am assuming that this is not happening while IN the nursing program because nursing programs are ruthless when it comes to weeding out students and sciences is where it happens.

Everyone has given you good advice so far, have you also considered hooking up with nursing students who have survived the course? They would be good to hook up with simply for the support and advice.

Depending on school system there is a grade known as "IP" which is an "In Process Incomplete" it allows the instructor to give a grade in an open ended fashion after the semester ends and more inportantly it does not default to an "F" automatically after a semester. This maybe a possible negotiable option to give you more time to study or hash out details with your prof.

Definitely talk to the prof. Things going in your favor are that you are an older student and your GPA indicates seriousness.

Summer session is where you need to repair hits to the GPA or my method which was take a class for pure pleasure which added a GPA buffer if things went south during the semester.

Find yourself a good advisor and someone very reliable in financial aid who you trust with all possible solutions and scenarios.
posted by jadepearl at 1:28 AM on October 18, 2006

Colleges have many rules and you need to learn them. ALL of them. There are often some options available that your "advisors" may not know about or do not agree with and so will not present to you. Some of the best academic advice I recieved at college came from lab technicians.

Talk to all of your professors, even past ones and future ones that seem approachable. Some profs at my college allowed you to do the coursework, including exams, in whichever term you wanted, and they would give you the grade when you enrolled. It helped a lot of students out, but it was not official policy (although technically not against policy) and was usually only known about through word of mouth.

As many have suggested, there should be at least one organization for older students that can give you some guidance, or maybe even some emotional support.

Also, as nakedcodemomkey suggests, you may want to pace yourself a little more by replacing one of your harder courses with an easy one which you could use for credit. Some popular ones at at the schools I attended were "Stars for Studs," "Rocks for Jocks," and "The History of Weapons and War." You probably do not have to look too hard to find similar courses on your campus.

You only mention three courses for this semester which seems a bit light, but I assume you have a few others, or you have other things on your plate. If you are having trouble with these three freshmen level courses together you may want to come up with a longterm course strategy. I don't want to discourage you, but I have seen a few older students who try to pick away at a few courses a year, only to find out their earlier credits will expire before they finish. You may want to verify this - some colleges do not let credits expire, some do.

My last piece of advice is to study/do assignments/party with the young people. A few of the olders students in my program were reluctanct to work in groups and they generally did not do as well as the ones that did. The students in the later years of the program generally know most of the tricks. We had a Peer Mentoring program which paired each freshman that wanted one with a more experienced student.
posted by Yorrick at 1:39 AM on October 18, 2006

Did something happen in your life that affected your grades or are the classes just that hard? If some sort of life event has played a role in the decline in your grades, check if your school allows you to take an incomplete due to those circumstances. For two semesters in law school, I got permission from a dean to take some of my exams after the exam period was over because, due to the deaths of a family member and a friend in close succession, I just could not deal.
posted by Mavri at 5:24 AM on October 18, 2006

I'm in nursing school. I second the comment up-thread about looking into if the grade will be averaged together or replaced if you take any course over again. Check at the nursing school you're thinking of applying to as well. Both of the main BSN programs near me REPLACE the grade. So if you blow it - you can take it over again and further develop your knowledge of the material. Many people do this and there's no shame in it. Of all the pre-req's you have to take, the A&Ps are by far the most relevant to what you'll study in nursing school. You'll want that knowledge to be pretty solid.

Study in groups if you can - that helps. It also helps me to explain the material to my boyfriend - if you have a friend that is mildly interested in this and will do it, it helps a lot. If you can explain how the anatomy is set up and then how that part functions, you can THINK through the processes and answer exam questions more easily. If you don't have someone to do this write it down and then check yourself against the material in your book.

When I was in A&P I also read the text over and over as many times as I could. A&P does start to click more towards the second half of the course.

Good luck! (know that what you're taking is hard and having difficulty is no reflection on your ability to do this and eventually do well in nursing school).
posted by dog food sugar at 10:11 AM on October 18, 2006

Response by poster: In case anyone checks, thank you for encouragement! To the poster who said it was a light course load, you make me cry. 12 credits feels like a LOT. My adviser had me change to pass/fail in molecular, even a no pass won't change my GPA it just shows as a no pass. Nursing school does not require or even consider it so I'm feeling MUCH better. Now I will concentrate all my energy on getting a good grade in A/P. Thanks for all the help.
posted by yodelingisfun at 2:15 PM on October 18, 2006


By the way A&P on it's own can be a heavy load. Anyone that knows anything about that class - knows THAT.

Don't listen to all the scare-mongering about getting into nursing school either. It's is hard and all that, but people blow it out of proportion. If you're serious, get decent grades, and are persistent you'll get in.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:42 PM on October 18, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks dog food sugar, I love your blog btw. I cannot wait to start clinicals, assuming I can in somewhere. Thanks for kind words!
posted by yodelingisfun at 4:26 PM on October 18, 2006

*blushing procrastinator who needs to study*
posted by dog food sugar at 9:05 PM on October 18, 2006

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