Oops! You’ve Been Flunked!

Surprisingly, failing is not the end of the world.

By Chris Diehl

April 21, 2009

Oops! You’ve Been Flunked! Oops! You’ve Been Flunked!

Situation 2: I just failed. Can I wipe it off my record?

Dropping a class after the withdrawal deadline is difficult but possibly allowed if there’s a legitimate reason. Usually the reason is an extreme personal or health issue like a lengthy hospital stay or death in the family. Remember, these exceptions are for very serious situations, and you will need to present your case to be excused from the class.

If you feel you were treated unfairly or the professor made a mistake, talk to your professor first, but again, be prepared to state your case. Asking for a grade change without backup will get you nowhere. “Don’t go in there and say, ‘Hey prof, you’ve really screwed up here!’" says Dr. Fiona Cowie, associate professor of philosophy at the California Institute of Technology. "You want to say, ‘I’m really upset about this, I thought I was doing really well in this class, would you mind going over it with me so that you can be sure that there’s not been some mistake?’”

“Avoid approaching professors in an adversarial spirit, [which] only has a tendency to put [them] on the defensive and makes them less likely to meet you halfway,” says Philip Bean, dean for academic affairs at Haverford College, via email. Before you elevate the issue to the department head, the registrar’s office, or the dean of the faculty, find out the proper protocol.

Some colleges offer more palatable options than taking the F. You might retake the failed class and have the new grade supplant the F in your GPA (though the F will probably remain on your transcript). While your school may offer other ways to minimize the damage to your GPA, the important thing is to research your options and decide on the best choice based on your college’s policy.

Situation 3: OK, I messed up. How do I prevent this from happening again?

“To expunge a poor grade that has been correctly assigned would be to tell the world something that is not truthful,” says Bean. “Just as we expect other institutions and our students to be truthful with us, we feel obligated to be comparably truthful with the world.” If you received an F because you earned it, no reputable college is going to wipe that grade away. Ask yourself: Why did I fail?

  • I didn’t manage my time well.
  • I had no idea what the professor was talking about.
  • I skipped a week of class.
  • I didn’t do the homework.
  • I thought I could ace the tests without studying.

“The hardest part of finding solutions is identifying the problems that caused the academic troubles,” says Stern. “Was it procrastination, avoidance of something they found too difficult, addiction to their computer games or the Internet? Students should look closely at which of their behaviors were most problematic for them, and then try to find ways to not fall into the same bad habits again.”

“The bottom line,” she says, “[is that] sometimes students just have to learn the hard way and figure things out for themselves. Ultimately, it’s up to them to just do it.”

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