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What to Do When You're Failing a College Class

We've somehow already arrived to being past the halfway point of October...which also means that for those of you still in school, you're probably been inundated with midterms, group project deadlines, and other major assignments. You might also be starting to get your first indication of what grade you can expect in your classes by the end of the semester...especially for classes that have few opportunities to earn points. 

After speaking with several of my friends who are still in school and dealing with the stresses of trying to maintain a social life, a high GPA, and a part-time job (for some), it was definitely clear to me that everyone's stress levels are reaching their peak right about now. 

Having been a major over-achiever in high school, obsessed with getting nothing bu straight A's while also participating and holding leadership positions in practically every single class and club, I was no stranger to stress. This was why I was in for a huge surprise the first time in college that I realized...I was about to fail my first class. Ever. 

You can imagine the meltdown scene that ensued. Math had never been my forte, and evidently Statistics (a required course for me) was not going to be an exception to the rule. I had never been a bad student in my life, and felt like no matter what I was trying, I couldn't get a decent grade on anything in that class! 

I began to panic about how my GPA would sink, that I would lose my place in the Business School, and that everything in my life path was going to be thrown off course (dramatic much? yep). This was just such a new thing for me, and I had absolutely no idea how to handle it. Starting to sound familiar? 

Now that I'm older and out of college, I realized that not only is there nothing to be ashamed of when you're tanking one of your college courses, but it's practically a rite of passage. I don't think I had a single friend (even the smartest, most over-achieving ones) that didn't have at least one course they had to drop and re-take, or met a similar panic moment come midterm season. 

You can stop your panic in its tracks right now though - this is perfectly normal, not uncommon at all, and there are really important steps you can take to turn things around...I promise! I'm sharing the lessons and tips I learned when I started failing my first college course, so that hopefully you don't worry yourself into a stress coma the way I did during my freshman year!


Step One // Take a Deep Breath & Assess. There is a huge difference in "failing" and "not being very successful". I held myself to incredibly high standards, so before college anything less than an A to me was essentially unacceptable. While it's great to have goals for yourself, college is not high school...at all. Make sure your personal expectations are realistic. You can only expect your best effort from yourself, and if that's what you're giving, it's okay to take a deep breath and cut yourself some slack. 

Step Two // Ask Yourself the Critical Questions. Is it too late to drop the class and take a "W"? (A W, despite common misconception, is not a 'black mark' on your record. It's insanely common to take a "W" for a class, and re-take the class at another time when maybe your work schedule or personal life will allow you to dedicate your best energy and efforts. Employers aren't going to snub you because of a "W" in a difficult class from your first year of college...they were students once too! Most colleges do have deadlines for when you have to take a "W" by, however, so do a little digging and find out what those deadlines are. If it's not too late, this might be the best option until you can re-try the course another time. 

Step Three // What to Do if it's Too Late to Drop. You've done your research, and it turns out the deadlines have come and gone, and you're definitely going to have to stick this course out for the remainder of the semester. Don't panic! There are still plenty of steps you can take. First, schedule a meeting with your professor (or drop by office hours). Come prepared with some questions about the grades you've been receiving. Teachers highly respect a student that takes the initiative to ask questions and figure out where you can improve - it shows that the course and grade matter to you! They are typically willing to work with you and go over quiz or exam scores, and figure out which parts you didn't understand. They might even be willing to give you a list of additional practice questions and then check over them with you - don't be afraid to ask for help!

Step Four // What Can You Do On Your Own? Beyond visiting the professor for additional help, there are plenty of resources available to you on campus. Most colleges have a completely FREE tutoring center where you can sign up to be tutored in your courses by other students. (Yep - FREE). Apply for a tutor and start bringing your homework, failed quizzes/exams/papers with you, and see if they can help you understand it on a different level. This 100% saved my statistics grade, and I was able to have problems explained to me in a way I could understand. My grades improved dramatically, and the professor ended up bumping my on-the-border grade at the end of the semester because I had proven how much work I was willing to put in. 

Step Five // What Other Resources Should I Try? This all depends on the class and your unique situation, but there are so many different ways to seek additional help. Beyond the professor and a tutor, if you belong to an organization (especially a sorority) there is a huge chance that someone else in your organization has taken the class too, and might have helpful study tips or be willing to spend some library time with you working through your struggles (maybe in exchange for a cup of coffee on you!) For some courses (like statistics, economics, science...)  YouTube is actually an incredible place to find easy and simplified tutorials of topics. Extra bonus: you can pause, rewind, and take notes as you go. 

*Fun fact - YouTube is legitimately how I taught myself my entire Level 2 Economics class...I just could not understand my professor and needed a new voice/method of learning!*

Step Six // Go Easy on Yourself. I can't reiterate enough how important it is to give yourself a break from time to time. College is really difficult, and there is a high chance that in your four years (or less/more) there, you are bound to run into a class or two that just isn't your best. In the grand scheme of things, one class is not going to destroy your entire GPA. As long as you are doing your best, exhausting all of the options (like the ones I listed above) and working hard, you can't possibly expect better from yourself. So take a deep breath, and remember that everything is going to work out! (These tricks are also great for slowing things down and relaxing when things get really overwhelming!)

I hope these help avoid the panic and anxiety so many students experience these days with everything we are expected to balance...I certainly wish I could have gone back and told myself these tips when I was a scared freshman in a huge seminar-style statistics class! Good luck with midterms, and remember to relax!

PS - I also recommend my study and motivation tips for college...they are real life-savers!

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