I failed a class/the semester – what can I do?

Have you reached the end of the semester and found you failed one or more – even all of your classes? What can you do?

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First, ask yourself some questions:

  • Did I go to class regularly (even if it was boring, pointless, repetitive, put you to sleep)
  • Did I arrive in class on time (was I late on more than one occasion)
  • Did I hand in all assigned homework on time
  • Did I take notes
  • Did I review the notes
  • Did I participate if the class allowed for participation
  • Did I use the learning centers on campus (do I know where the campus learning centers are? Do I know if there are any?)
  • If projects/presentations were part of the class did I do my best on all of them, show up for all group work and meetings on time
  • Did I keep up with the reading for the class during the semester and review my notes after class so that I was studying all semester – or did I wait and try and cram for tests in the few days/hours before a test
  • Did I seek out the professor and/or Teaching Assistant during their office hours and ask questions about homework or classwork that I did not understand

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If you have done all of these things, consider the following:

  • Do I need to talk to the professor to find out if there is a mistake in my grade? – Grade entry is often computer automated these days, and professors can occasionally make a data entry error that needs to be corrected. This is something to bring to a professor’s attention as soon as you discover the incorrect grade.
  • Do I need to file a grade appeal? If you have handed in all your homework and been given passing grades, if you have passed all your tests and gone to class and still did not pass the class, yet you were still given a failing grade, then again, you need to immediately bring this to the professor’s attention. If the professor states that the failing grade is accurate, you can file an appeal with the department the professor teaches for – but I would recommend FIRST making an appointment to sit down with the professor and explain why you thought you were passing and listen to the professor’s explanation for why you were given the failing grade.

Now let us suppose that you failed but it was neither an error nor a misunderstanding between what the professor expected and what you thought the professor expected.

If you did all of the above – went to class, studied throughout the semester (not relying on cramming just before an exam), used the appropriate learning centers, talked to the professor when you didn’t understand something – yet you received a failing grade – it may be that the information was presented in a way that is not suited to your learning style. You may need to repeat the class to learn the information.

Some classes are very complex, plus the information is not presented in a way that suits a wide range of learners. In a case like this, it may be necessary to take a class a second time — sometimes repetition of ideas and greater familiarity with a topic will assist in learning the information. Also, some professors may be able to teach a subject in a way that engages an individual student in a way that another professor does not. Professors and students are all human; with a complex topic, sometimes the professor teaching does make a difference. Not everyone teaches or learns the exact same way and different combinations of student and teacher can impact learning.

If, you failed more than one class though, you need to consider the following:

  • You are trying to do too much at once – you’re either taking more credit hours and/or working, or have too many social activities, or are otherwise trying to fit too much activity into the time you have.
  • You are in the wrong field of study.

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It is important to consider which of these apply to your situation and comparing yourself to others will not help.

It doesn’t matter if someone else is doing the same amount of activity that you are yet not failing – we are each individuals and we each have to discover the pace we can work at, and how much we can do at once. Our brains are not all built the same way, and our brains do not all process information or stimuli the same way. Just as we all have things we can do without effort, we all have at least one thing we have to work harder than others at. Are you trying to do too much at once? Did you find yourself always running out of time, always needing to be in two places at once? Then you may need to cut down on activities and maybe cut down on the number of classes you take, in order to be successful. Talking to an academic advisor can be helpful in working out what changes you can make to be more successful.

It may be even harder to figure out if you are in the wrong field of study. Just because you really want to follow a certain career path does not mean you will be able to successfully obtain a degree in a given field. Have you ever watched a talent contest? (There are more and more of them televised these days). Have you noticed that while some people are very talented at singing or dancing or playing an instrument or at physical activities, others do not have the same talents? Everyone has talents, strengths, and things they do well – but sometimes what we want most and our strengths do not match up. If you are struggling to pass classes in a certain field of study, then you might be like the person who desperately wants to be a singer but cannot stay on key. You may need to separate your hobbies and interests from your potential to be employed.

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Look for the Career Services office on your campus, or talk to your Academic Advisor. Find out about the possible jobs that would allow you to use your strengths without requiring so much of what you struggle with. If for example, you have trouble with math it is one thing to have to survive/pass one math class as part of a degree requirement and another to try and become a mathematician…or any other career where math would be both foundational and regularly required.

And if you are a student who is struggling but who has not studied throughout the semester, has not used learning centers, has not talked to the professor, has not gone to class regularly or does not arrive on time – it may be that what you need is to consider if you really want a college education. These are the practices necessary for most people to be successful in college. If you don’t want to do these things, then you may be pursuing a job/career in the wrong way. Have you considered certification in a field that allows you to learn hands on? Journey-person training in trades can lead to very well paid jobs which remain in demand – in fact, predictions are that countries around the globe are not training enough trades people and that demand is going to continue to increase.

Consider if you are in the right field of study. Consider if you need to try a different school, different field, or different path to employment. Talk to a Career Counselor and Academic Advisor about your options. Remember, education is supposed to be challenging, not painful. If your current course of study is making you suffer, you need to reexamine either your goals or your approach to your goals.

College doesn’t have to be for everyone; education does.

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There seems to be an ever increasing amount of talk in media sources that the future of the work force and the future of the economy lies in technology. As someone who is employed at a university which specializes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), I certainly can attest that the students graduating with degrees in these fields are very employable. What that truth overlooks though are several other truths: not everyone excels in these fields; one does not need to excel in these fields to be employable. In fact, not everyone has a learning style or capacity that is well suited to four/five year university degrees. There is more than one way for a person to become educated to do work and not all that education needs to take place in a university.

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Skilled tradespeople, technical degrees that take months or several years vs. four+ years, and manufacturing jobs all continue to provide employment opportunities for people. Not everyone is interested in, or may not be well suited to longer study periods of the four to six years necessary to obtain a degree in the STEM fields and these people should be encouraged to look into other opportunities that do still exist for employment.

Ro Khanna’s, “Five Myths about Manufacturing Jobs” which appeared in the Washington Post on 2-15-13 points out that despite the talk about China being the new source of all things manufactured, the U.S. continues to produce 1/5 of the world’s manufactured goods – the same amount as China. Khanna argues that manufacturing and service jobs continue to be large employers in the U.S. and that the service sector will see the largest growth in the near future.

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There have also been concerns being [under]reported since at least 2007 (Virginia Manufacturers Association; Manpower, Talent Shortage 2011 Survey Results) that a short fall of people in the skilled trades – such as welding, tool setting and operating, machine maintenance specialists – is slowing down economic growth as demand for these skilled tradespeople outstrips supply. The Virginia Manufacturers report for example, states that the statewide need was being met by “only 44 percent.”  A 66% shortfall of needed workers, trained in skilled trades.

Everyone with the capacity to learn should have the opportunity to become educated to work. The best education for working though has to be dependent on an individual’s learning interests and capacities. Those who have an aptitude for a STEM education ought to have that option; we should as a society though, continue to value and provide opportunities for people to become skilled in trades that support the manufacturing we continue to do and recognize that the service sector continues to be vital to the way our society functions. [There is a separate argument/concern that service sector jobs may not pay well enough to support a family – as a society dependent on service sector jobs to support lifestyles we enjoy, this certainly seems to be another issue we ought to be addressing.]

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