What should one do when failing a class?
November 18, 2006 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Hivemind, I'm failing a class and don't know what to do. Suggestions?

This will be the only class I've EVER failed a class. The lowest grade I ever got before was a "C." I guess it had to happen sometime (or did it) , but this will be horribly bad for my record. I'm willing to go to the extreme to ensure that it does not.

Here's a little background info:
I'm a transfer student at a large state school and was not really made very aware of the process for registering for classes (which is online). So, I ended up having to take classes that were way out of my field just to get as many credit hours as possible. One such class, "The Romans" seems to be way out of my league. And as of know my grade hovers around 55%.

It's near the end of the semester, and I'm taking only 12 credit hours. Is there anything I can do? Should I feign a breakdown or something?
posted by matkline to Education (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Too late to drop it?
posted by smackfu at 1:15 PM on November 18, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah, the last day was October 17th, and beside that I'd lose financial aid eligibility if I had less than 12 credits.
posted by matkline at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2006

Have you talked to the professor to see what options you have at this point?
posted by j at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2006

There was a similar thread recently with some good info about talking to your advisor, professor, checking what your school's policy is and whatnot.

Try not to panic. Can you pull your grade up to a passing grade with the final exam? Do extra credit work?
posted by dog food sugar at 1:22 PM on November 18, 2006

Talk to the prof, make it clear that you are willing to work to pass.
posted by Good Brain at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2006

Best answer: I would suggest going to the instructor and telling him/her basically what you said in your posting. I would suggest you do it in person if possible and I would suggest you do it Monday.

I do not suggest feigning anything. As a college professor I am lied to on a constant basis about "emergencies" that prevented students from working on the class.

Not once in my entire career has a student come to me and said, "I'm a good student. I work hard. But I'm in over my head." I've also never had a student say, "I put this off and now I'm backed into a corner," when it comes to a class deadline. Students *never* take responsibility for the situation - doing so would be a breath of fresh air.

Instead of people taking responsibility for their choices I get fake deaths in the family (why is it always grandmothers?), car accidents, computer crashes, and on and on. Trust me. The instructor has heard them all.

A student taking responsibility for themselves and their situation and initiating contact with me about their progress would blow my mind to the point I would probably give them an A just out of gratitude.

So, my advice would be take complete ownership of the situation ("I know this is my responsibility") express empathy with their position ("I know you're busy and I know I'm adding to your workload") and express your intention to work hard ("I'm willing to do whatever it takes to salvage my grade."). Acknowledge you could have addressed the situation earlier ("I wish I had come to you sooner") and make a specific suggestion ("I did poorly on my last assignment - could I re-do it? Could I do an additional assignment similar to that one to demonstrate that I understand the material?")

Things to not say:

1. I have to pass this class or I'll lose my financial aid.
2. I have to pass this class or I'll be kicked off the X team.

That's my advice. For what its worth.

Just don't do the grandmother thing. It's tired. If you're going to lie, at least take the time to be creative.

Good luck.
posted by orsonet at 1:38 PM on November 18, 2006 [17 favorites]

The other suggestions are good, but also you shouldn't talk about "feigning a breakdown" in public using an account linked to what I presume is your real name.
posted by grouse at 1:40 PM on November 18, 2006

What orsonet said. (Flagged as fantastic.)
posted by desuetude at 1:56 PM on November 18, 2006

Seconding EVERYTHING orsonet said.

Keep calm, be honest with the professor, and start taking action as soon as possible. Yes, see the professor on Monday, but also send an email right now saying, "I am having trouble with this class and I want to talk with you about it in person as soon as possible. Would you be able to meet with me on Monday?" (If your Thanksgiving break has already started, make that "the Monday when we get back from break.")

The professor probably does not want you to fail, although his or her feelings on the subject might change if you start to pull histrionics. Again, keep calm, be honest (without mentioning the scholarship issue), and most likely the professor will work with you.
posted by Orinda at 2:14 PM on November 18, 2006

Two times in college I was in your situation. Once, during organic chemistry (a class I needed to do well in to go to med school), I was basically doing too many drugs and a ton of personal shit was going on in my life. I realized I was going to fail the midterm coming up, no matter how hard I studied. My school let me take an "incomplete." The next semester, I had cleaned up my act, studied my ass off and wound up with an A.

The other time, I was taking an upper division math course that was way, way beyond me. No matter how hard I studied, how much extra tutoring I got, my brain just would NOT do it. That time, I had been in to see the professor every week and worked individually with the TA through the entire semester. By the end, it was clear to the professor and myself that mathematics were simply not for me. I am quite certain I failed the final exam, but by some miracle, the professor realized I had done my damned best and would not be continuing in the field and mercifully bestowed a C upon me just for my effort so as not to screw up the rest of my academic career. This was at a huge state school known for its academic rigor.

Eventually, when I had to explain my transcript at med school interviews, the honest explanation turned out to be a pretty good one.

By the way, I made it through med school and all of my academic and career goals were fulfilled, despite once upon a time feeling like my grades would totally screw me. Good luck!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:16 PM on November 18, 2006

Just to counter:

I really needed to get a B in a certain class to transfer to a school I really want to go to for the fall semester next year. I was about 2 or 3% from a B (less than a single worksheet in this class is worth). I asked the professor if the grade lines might be curved, or if I could do extra credit. I didn't make excuses, I simply asked if there was some way to redeem myself. The answer was no.

I went through all the stages of grief in about an hour. Life will go on. Don't Panic. Failing a single class will not doom you, it's just not the way American higher education works.

Try begging for incomplete status if the professor groveling doesn't work. If you need the credit hours, take a bypass exam in a subject you know really well.

In general the order of meetings should be:
posted by phrontist at 2:29 PM on November 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, what orrsonet said. Many instructors will bend a bit for students who are actively seeking help. That doesn't mean that you will get an easy grade. But little things like class attendance and visiting office hours are used to determine borderline cases. Your instructor may give you the option of revising/rewriting papers for a grade boost.

Take advantage of office hours. Usually that's 1-2 hours a week during which you can ask questions about what you don't understand, and get more explicit feedback from your assignments. If you make an appointment, keep it or give plenty of notice.

Chances are quite good that you have a final paper, assignment or test that will make or break your grade here. Many instructors will be happy to review outlines and drafts of papers, or provide guidance on how to study for a test.

Check with academic advising also. My university used to have a policy that you can erase an F grade by re-taking the course. Also talk with financial aid. Chances are that the award has already been set and a late withdrawl won't hurt your funding for next semester.

Another thing to consider asking about, are there any underemployed starving graduate students or senior students in the field who will tutor for cash? Paying out a few hundred dollars might be worthwhile. If the problem is writing skills, or writing for a specific field, many universities have tutorial centers for that purpose.

If the problem is a lack of background information, ask around about quick and dirty ways to bootstrap yourself into the course. There is nothing wrong with Cliff notes or similar study guides as an aid. Your instructor may be able to suggest some quick reads that you can do over thanksgiving that might help.

DON'T fake a crisis.

DON'T blow off appointments.

DON'T ask for suggestions and feedback and fail to follow-up on them.

DON'T make excuses.

DON'T argue that you diserve a better grade because of your performance in other areas.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:44 PM on November 18, 2006

I agree that talking to your professor is going to be the most helpful. He/she can offer some suggestions, give you a realistic look at what your grade is and is likely to be.

Also check to see if your school has a grade replacement option. Some schools that are large univesities do that kind of thing.

Basically if you get a bad grade the first time around you can take the class again and the second grade will replace the first grade. You'll want to make sure that you know what this will look like on your transcript as some schools will show both grades even if they factor in just the second grade.

Good luck.
posted by mulkey at 3:43 PM on November 18, 2006

I am going to join the "go orsonet" pile-on, because it bears repeating: most students are so unwilling to take responsibility for their own college work that when one shows up in my office or e-mails and takes a respectful tone; doesn't tell lies; doesn't make excuses; just says, "This is what's going on, what can I do?" I want to bend over backward to help them.

The prof may have some options you don't know about. For instance, you mention the official drop date has passed, but where I teach, students can drop until quite late in the semester with faculty permission (of course, according to the policy they have to be passing at the time they drop, but most people in my department will allow drops at student request if it is at all possible that they might still pass the class if they stayed in it and did stellar work).

Seconding also: phronset saying "it's not the end of the world even if your worst-case comes to pass." I failed a class in grad school and I teach college now.

Seconding "good luck."
posted by not that girl at 4:52 PM on November 18, 2006

Yes - what everyone else said. Don't panic, talk to your prof about options (eg late drop or extra work you could do). This happens all the time, professors will have seen students in trouble lots of times in the past, and most professors want to help -- or at least, want to help students who are willing to try.

And yes, I failed my share of courses in college and had no trouble with later life as a result. If you fail, you will need to talk to the financial aid people, and to the dean of students (or similar person at your school). Don't be ashamed, be focused on how you can avoid this situation in the future. Just go talk to them, they are there to help.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 PM on November 18, 2006

Check the date to switch to Pass/Not Pass.
posted by sophist at 11:30 PM on November 18, 2006

I also got a decent grade in a class i should have failed by talking about whats happening: how I have learned alot and spent (huge) hours on it, but am bad at tests...etc... but it depends on the teacher... if they say a grade is a grade you might have to endure a fail. But its not the end...ambition is much more important than grades in post-school life. I didn't even expect to get hired where I'm am because of failed class, average gpa etc..but it happened.
posted by uni verse at 9:33 AM on November 19, 2006

I feel the need to just inject a little of the other side into this, because as someone who went to a small, "alternative" liberal arts college, the idea of going to the professor to tell them how deeply you care and how committed you are to doing everything you can, and how sorry you are that you've fallen behind - blah blah blah - was exactly what we called bullshitting. I don't think anyone ever bothered with grandmothers dying - generally we knew we could weasel out of deadlines by way of sincere, heartfelt pleas...

Now I'm teaching myself - I am not a real hardass, and teaching in community college is quite different (when these students fall short it is generally by skipping class or not talking, whereas we used to skip homework, and then talk too much - not enough listening, too much interjecting personal opinion on topics we were clueless about...), but I am still a bit wary of the overly ass-kissing students. Intention matters, but you have to put in the work, too. If you come to me to work out a strategy for making the most of the rest of the term, I will absolutely put in time & effort to help you determine what you need to do. If you come to me looking for sympathy and exceptionalism... I am going to be willing to help you work out a strategy for making the most of the rest of the term.
posted by mdn at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2006

It's probably not a good idea to switch to pass-fail. Usually, to "pass" you have to get a C- or better. Whereas if you keep the letter grade, the instructor can give you a mercy D- and you'll still get credit. (This varies by school; investigate the situation at your own school.) If you're going to fail, try to withdraw or get an incomplete. Talk to the financial aid people to be sure you understand the actual consequences of each of these -- don't take anyone else's speculation as the final word.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:25 PM on November 19, 2006

Clearly you were joking, but I hope that no one gets so desperate in this situation that they seriously consider faking a breakdown or illness or anything. Let's set aside the ethical implications of telling a lie. From a practical standpoint, there's always the chance that they'll get caught. As a college instructor with more than 10 years in the classroom, I can tell you that we sometimes catch students in their lies. When that happens, it is pretty much a guarantee that the instructor will no longer lift a finger to help the student. In fact, students might end up worse off than when they were only failing a class. For example, if forged signatures are involved, like doctor's notes or military papers, there might even be police involvement.
As far as what you can do, I second the advice that you talk to your instructor honestly and immediately. I also recommend checking your college's policy on repeating courses. Even if you get a D or F in the course, you might be able to re-take it in a future semester and have the poor grade replaced with a better one if you do better the second time around.
Good luck and please don't wait to talk to your instructor.
posted by Abraxas5 at 3:29 PM on November 19, 2006

Here's some encouragement for you:

This semester one of my prerequisites for my submajor was a class called "Staging Australia", basically Australian theater history. (Ironically theater is not my submajor.) I was an international student, knew nothing about Australian history (let alone theater history), and this subject was way over my head.

I was seriously depressed for that whole semester over that one subject. I couldn't drop it (there goes the submajor!), I had no other resources, counseling wasn't helpful. The class only had lectures (no tutorials) which crammed too much into too little time. I was a first-sem student stuck in a class full of 2nd or 3rd year drama students. The only two assessment pieces were an essay and an exam - I was sure I was going to fail.

I'm normally not the studious type, but I put in all my effort to pass that damn class - failing meant I'd have to do it again, which I was trying to avoid. I wasn't expecting more than a 3 - "barely pass".

I earned a 6 - Distinction.

Another class that kicked my ass was a film studies class I took in my old university. Failed an assignment, thought I would fail the whole thing, but eventually earned the highest grade in the class - and this was with an especially strict lecturer.

Take heart. Perhaps you'll do better than you think?
posted by divabat at 2:16 AM on December 16, 2006

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