What Happens When You Fail a Course in College?

by Margie Griffin Hillebrech
Neglecting classwork can delay your degree.

When you fail a course in college, you lower your grade point average and, depending on whether or not the course is a required course for your major, you may have to make it up -- and pay for it again. Much depends on your college’s own policies, but there are generally similar choices for you to make.

Ill Effects

Failing a class can tank your GPA. GPA is calculated by assigning a number to grades and then averaging them. An A is a four, B a three and so forth, leaving a failing grade as a zero. Therefore, five courses in which you had a B, B, C, A and F would add up to a 2.4 GPA if all the courses were for the same amount of credits. You add each semester’s grades to the next to get a final GPA.

Time Frame

When you fail a course that is required for your field of study, you have to repeat the course. You need to check with your adviser on how soon you need to retake the class. Some courses require a prerequisite, and if the failed course was the prerequisite, you must repeat it before you can take the next course. If the course was not a required course, you can choose to let the grade stand, but it will continue to affect your GPA.

Try, Try Again

Most schools give you the chance to bring up your GPA whether it is a required course or not. Each school has its own set of rules on how this is handled. The F grade usually remains on the record but the new grade replaces the old in the overall GPA, or both of your scores are counted. In either case, the GPA improves and, if a required course, you have taken care of the requirement.

Consider Failure a Warning

Failing one or two courses in a college career is not unheard of, and you can bounce back. Continually failing courses is a problem. Many schools use repeated failing grades as grounds for dismissal. In addition, failing grades cost more money in tuition, and you end up staying longer in school. Talking with your adviser can help you determine if you need a tutor or should consider switching majors.

Monetary Considerations

One final consideration is for students with grants or loans. Many grants and loans require some repayment of the monies if you fail a class. There are also grants that require you to keep your GPA at a certain level for the continuation of the grant. You need to look closely at all of your grants and loans and see what their policies are. Sometimes you may lose some of the money for one semester but can get it again when you repeat the course.

Be Proactive

When you find you are failing a class, try to take steps to stave off that failing grade before it is officially posted. A meeting with your professor that acknowledges your failure, discusses your situation and investigates how close you were to passing, could yield some options that avoid failure or at least give you some insight into how to do better the next time you take the class. Though rare, you may be able to complete last minute extra credit, withdraw from the class or take an incomplete to avoid the F.

About the Author

Margie Griffin Hillebrecht has been active in writing, marketing and the theatre for more than 24 years. She has also held jobs in television, radio, newspaper and marketing. She has written for Westmoreland Newsgroup and "The Latrobe Bulletin." She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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