The semester is half over and I’m failing. Now what?

Every semester I meet with young people who have made it to the halfway point in the semester and are beginning to realize that their grades are not improving. In fact, the longer the semester goes on, the worse their grades are getting. What can they do?

reportcard_png_800x1000_q100In analyzing whether there is still hope that a student may pass a class, by the halfway point in a semester a student can start by going over the class syllabus which the professor gave out (or made available online) at the beginning of the semester. The syllabus lays out the agreement between the professor and the student regarding what will be counted towards the final grade. If a professor has already assigned and graded 50% or more of the work that will count for the final grade, and a student has not passed this portion of the class, then it is time to consider dropping the class.

Before dropping a class it is usually a good idea to talk to the professor to see if, in the professor’s opinion, there is still some reasonable hope of passing the class. It is also important to realize where problems arose in the class for the student. Were the foundational concepts for the course not understood? Was the homework not done on time or so difficult that the student couldn’t keep up? Did the student miss too many classes?  What seemed to get in the way of success – the professor may be able to offer some important insights that help a student identify what she needs to do differently in the future.


Some classes are taken by choice and after struggling in a class to the point of needing to drop it, a student may choose to not attempt the class again. Many classes, however, are taken because they are necessary for the degree a student is attempting. This means the class can be dropped but may need to be attempted again in the future. Understanding where things went wrong on attempt one is very important to not repeating the same errors the second time around. Also, if a student is struggling with concepts in a class, recognizing this and signing up for tutors or learning center appointments from the beginning of the semester of the second attempt may make a crucial difference to the student’s success.

Sometimes students mistakenly believe that if they have sat through a class at least half way once, they have a head start on the second attempt and don’t have to pay as much attention for the first few weeks of the new semester. It is important to remember that at the college level classes move quickly and it doesn’t take long to fall behind on a second attempt of a class.

It is also important to realize that the school may limit the number of times a student is allowed to attempt a class. Where I currently work, students are allowed three attempts. If they still haven’t passed the class, and they need the class for their major, they may be forced to change majors. A student has to compellingly argue for exceptional circumstances to be allowed a fourth attempt of a class – even if they just need that one class to finish their degree, or to obtain their major, students can still be refused permission for a fourth attempt.


Sometimes the best strategy is to drop a class before it is too late – meaning before the class has been failed, or before the school’s last date to drop classes (there is a cut off date for dropping classes before the semester is over; past that date a student cannot drop a class without special permission – if at all.) Dropping classes to avoid failing is not a long term strategy to be successful in school because failure to pass a sufficient portion of the credits a student attempts, can also lead to a student being dismissed from school or failing to qualify for financial aid. When one is struggling with a particular class, however, a strategic drop is sometimes a good alternative to a failing grade and the impact that would have on the student’s overall grade point average.


Students who are considering if they are at the point of dropping, failing, or still passing a class should make an appointment to talk to their academic adviser; if the student is disabled then their disability service provider is also a person they can talk to. Mid-point in the semester is a good time to stop and take a close look at where grades are and what needs to happen in order for each class to be passed. If there is no realistic way to pass a class, then dropping it and taking it over in a following semester may be the best choice left open to a student.

6 thoughts on “The semester is half over and I’m failing. Now what?

    • When we’re trying to learn material that our brains need more time to process, then we sometimes need to make extra use of supports like tutors, talking to teachers, practice exams, and extra homework that we seek out in course material or even online. Often, instructors will suggest or even supply extra practice work to help learn things that are harder for us as an individual to learn. Personally, math and memorization remain my hardest tasks and I’ve had to take classes twice just to learn the basics. I was still able to earn multiple degrees, including a PhD. Very few of us are equally smart in all subject areas.

  1. I’m failing chemistry. I’ve studied for countless hours. I’ve gotten a tutor. But I haven’t got a B on a test for 6 weeks. I must be dumb.

    • Johnessa, dumb people typically don’t make plans for their future, study, work and put effort into trying things that are hard.
      None of us get to be equally brilliant in every topic; some things will seem more natural to us than others. When it comes to the topics that are hardest for us as individuals we sometimes need to go through the information – and class – twice to get what we need out of the material to pass. Smart isn’t about whether or not you have to keep working, it’s about seeing the purpose and continuing to work even when something is really hard.

    • Mental health can decidedly impact school. Does your campus have a counseling center or a health center? Those are the places to start looking for some guidance. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to the Dean of Students office and let them know you’re struggling and need help

      If your campus doesn’t have such a resource then check your community for a community mental health center. You can also ask your doctor for a reference to a counselor. If none of those are possible, then a member of the local clergy may be able to offer some counseling. Please talk to a mental health professional if you can.


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