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What Happens If You Fail a Class in College?

Failing a class can impact more than just your GPA.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

August 29, 2023

What Happens If You Fail a Class in College?
Failing a class has many implications, but there is hope for students who want to improve their grade.
The chances are high that at some point in college you will be in a class where you feel in over your head. It could be that the content of the course doesn’t come easily to you, or the professor has a teaching style that you don’t respond well to. Whatever the case, you could be in danger of failing a class – so what do you do? Failing a class could impact your GPA, graduation timeline, and ability to pay for school. If you find yourself falling behind in a class, there are several steps you can take to bolster your grade.

The Consequences of Failing a Class

There are very real-life consequences of failing a class in college. Before you attempt to fix your failing grade, it’s important to understand what is at stake.

Impact on Your GPA

What happens in college doesn’t stay in college. Employers like to see your GPA on your resume, especially those first few years after college. Failing a class, or classes, can drastically impact your GPA, which could have an adverse effect on your ability to find a job.

You May Have to Retake the Class

In some instances, you may have to retake the class. Though the college is giving you another chance to improve your GPA, you’ll have to relearn and re-study the material all over again, which can be difficult if the content is especially challenging.

Failing Out of College

Failing one college class could lead to a slippery slope of failing other classes. Initially, it may not seem so bad, and you decide that you’d rather sleep in than go to your early classes. However, multiple failed classes can lead to you failing out of college completely, which is a complete waste of your time and money.

Impact on Financial Aid

Financial aid has academic standards that you must meet to remain eligible to receive the aid. If you fail a class, or multiple classes, and your GPA falls below Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), you will have your financial aid taken away. Failing a class can make it impossible for you to attend college altogether.

Most Failed College Classes

College classes are hard, and some more than others. In fact, some are so hard that they’ve become the “most failed college classes.” If you’re struggling in one of these courses, know that you’re not alone. They’re difficult for everyone.

College Algebra

College algebra is a continuation of the pre-Algebra and Algebra you completed in high school. If math isn’t your strong suit – or it has been a while since you were in Algebra – it’s possible that you will struggle in this class.

Organic Chemistry

Organic Chemistry is the study of structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds. According to International Medical Aid, one in two college students either fails or drops this class.


Physics in college examines the laws of the universe, attempting to simplify the matter and energy of everything in existence. If you’re bad at both math and science, you’ll not find any relief by taking a physics course as it depends on concepts from each discipline.

Anatomy and Physiology

Anatomy and physiology in college are typically reserved for students on the pre-med, healthcare, or nursing tracks, but that doesn’t make this subject any easier. In fact, these courses usually weed out the students that may find a better fit in a different career field.

Turning Around a Failing Grade

If you find yourself failing a class, don’t completely give up. There are several steps you can take to potentially turn your grade around and pass the class. Remember, it’s ok to ask for help, especially in college. Seeking advice is the first step in improving your grade.

Talk to Your Professor

Your professor wants to see you succeed. They are open to working with students who genuinely value understanding the material and passing the class. Your professor may be able to spend extra time with you discussing the material, or they may point you to a Teaching Assistant (TA) who can help further explain. They may also be able to pinpoint what you understand and where you lose your footing. Knowing what you need to work on can be instrumental in helping you turn the ship around.

Find Out About Extra Credit

Extra credit isn’t a thing of the past. Some professors will offer the chance to gain some extra credit, especially for students struggling in their class. When you talk with your professor, ask if there are any opportunities to raise your grade. This may include writing extra papers, attending tutoring sessions, or participating in events or seminars around campus. You’ll never know if there are extra things you can do to raise your grade until you ask.

Get Tutoring

Finally, if you’re failing a class, there is no better place for you to find help than on your college campus. Not only are there entire departments dedicated to these subjects, but there are also multitudes of students who understand the material and can help you. Many campuses have academic services that offer free tutoring. Reach out to someone in academic services for more information on when and where you can take part in tutoring. If you’re unsure of where to find tutoring, talk to your professor. They will know who to contact. Asking for help is a great lesson to learn in college. Not only will you find that it’s easy to do, but you’ll also discover that there are professors, staff, and students who are willing and eager to help you.

Is It Better to Drop or Fail a Class in College?

In college, you have options besides failing a class. You can drop a class if you find that the material is too challenging, or the timing of the course doesn’t work with your schedule after all. When a student drops a class, it disappears from their schedule – and their GPA. Even if a student withdraws from a class, it will not impact their GPA. It will, however, remain on their transcript, unlike a dropped class. It should be noted that the opportunity to drop a class occurs toward the start of the semester. Students that find they’re failing a class towards the end of the semester will not have the opportunity to drop the class. They may, however, be able to withdraw. The same is true for financial aid. Dropping a class will not impact your financial aid package; however, withdrawing might. If you withdraw from a class, you may fall below the full- or part-time threshold required for maintaining financial aid. Before dropping or withdrawing from a class, it’s imperative that you speak with your advisor or someone from the registrar’s office. They can advise you on the best course of action and help to explain the impacts.

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Kathryn Knight Randolph

Associate Content Editor

Kathryn Knight Randolph is the Associate Content Editor at Fastweb. She has 17 years of higher education experience, working first as an Admissions Officer at DePauw University before joining Fastweb. In b...

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