17+ Things to Do if you’re Failing College

what to do if you're failing collegeIf you’re failing college, don’t worry just yet. There are plenty of options for failing college students – and I’ll share 17 of them here!

This post is all about things you can do to help you stop failing and start passing!

So let’s take stock, assess your situation, and see what path forward is best for you. You may read this post and decide to dig deep and get back on track.

You might realize that getting back on track is easy!

For others, you might read this post and realize college just isn’t for you anymore. That’s okay – we’ll discuss your options for life after college, too.

Let’s get started with Step 1!

1. Read your Feedback

Take a look at the feedback you got on your assessments that you failed.

What is the feedback?

This will reveal where you went wrong.

Here’s a quick guide:

You didn’t Interpret the Essay Question Correctly

If your professor wrote that you “didn’t understand the essay question”, “misinterpreted” it or “wrote the wrong essay”, then you might not be in as much trouble as you thought.

Sometimes I have to fail a student because they wrote the wrong essay. It’s not that they’re dumb. It’s that they didn’t read the essay question properly!

You Didn’t use Scholarly References

This is a systemic issue that can be fixed. But, it needs to be fixed or you’ll continue getting terrible marks.

I recommend in this post that you should use scholarly sources at least once per paragraph. You should also have about 7 unique scholarly sources for every 1500 words.

Your Paragraph or Sentence structure is Confusing

If your teacher has used the word “confusing” or “hard to understand”, then you need to work on sentence and paragraph structure. My first recommendation would be to read this post on how to write a paragraph for an essay.

So, what do I do?

The point of reading your feedback is to figure out whether the problem was just for this essay or if it was systemic.

If your professor seems confused or frustrated with the poor quality of writing, it’s a big problem. Jump to Part 2 and follow my advice on how to get better and studying and writing!

If your professor just thinks you misinterpreted the question, hang in there kid. You’ll probably start racking up some passes some time soon.

2. Talk with your Professor

This step is a must.

Any time you fail an assessment, you need to go to your professor and get their input. What did you do wrong? Why did you fail?

If you don’t seek answers, you’re not doing your due diligence. If you don’t ask questions, how will you improve?

It’s your professor’s obligation to give you more feedback. They’re paid to do it. And they failed you. You deserve an answer?

So how do you get in touch with your professor?

I recommend you do these two things, in this order:

  1. Email your Professor: Let your professor know you’re upset about your results and you’d like some more feedback. In the email, arrange a time to come in to meet up in person. The reason you should email your professor before coming in to talk to them during open office hours is to give them a warning. This way, they’ll look back over your piece before you turn up. You’ll get better feedback this way.
  2. Talk to your Professor Face-to-Face: Hopefully after you emailed your professor you will have arranged a time to meet. If not, look up their open office hours and turn up. Just about every university has open office hours. Turn up with three 3 to 5 questions that you have. Ask: why did I fail? What actionable tips can you give me to improve.


3. Ask Around: Are you Taking Extremely Hard Classes?

You may be simply taking classes that are exceptionally difficult.

Most university students have a story about that one class that was an outlier: just incredibly difficult.

There’s a few ways to find out.

Firstly, see if you can talk to your peers in your class. What are their feelings about their marks? Did they feel hard done by? Did they feel like they usually get higher grades than this?

Secondly, check the rate my professor website. Look up your professor’s name and see what other people have said about your professor. Are they rated lowly? Are the known for being overly critical or too tough?

If you find out that this is an excessively difficult class, then hang on in there. Even if you fail this one class, that’s okay. You can recover. See if there’s a way to get the degree without having to re-sit this one terrible, no-good, class.

4. Are you failing because you’re not Motivated to Succeed?

Are you failing college because you lack motivation?

This is a deep-down issue that needs fixing. Fast.

Stop and think about your motivation levels. Are they low because you hate the content? Are you finding it boring, uninspiring or disconnected to the career path you thought you want to take?

Look, it’s common for students to dislike university.

It can certainly seem a bit aloof. But, if you think you can’t find anything in it that’s inspiring or interesting, it’s time to make one of two decisions:

a) Quit.

Personally, I wouldn’t do something that I hate so much. I’d look forward and realize it’s taking me towards a job I’ll probably dislike, too.

So, if this is you, jump to Points 13 – 19 below where I offer you some ideas about what to do next.

b) Get Motivated!

This is an option for people who might just dislike one subject. You might find your subjects next semester are much more interesting. So, you can hang on in there.

To get yourself motivated, I recommend reading my article on how to motivate yourself. This article will walk you through some motivational videos, books, quotes and activities that’ll get you back on track.

5. Don’t be Tempted to use Essay Writing Services

Okay, I get that you’re failing college and that this is totally depressing.

But paying to get your essay written for you will just make the situation worse. Much, much worse.

Not only is paying for an essay writing service completely against the rules (despite what the writing services say), it’s also completely stupid. If you get caught, you really fail. In fact, you’ll probably be instantly kicked out of college. Then you’re stuffed.

Secondly, if you’re doing this, then what the heck is the point of you being at university in the first place? I mean, you’ll be going for a job interview in a few years feeling like a fraud and totally unprepared for your career – because you know you cheated your way to the interview!

If you’re willing to pay for help, actually get help. Get yourself a tutor!! Tutors will actually show you how to do it yourself, not do it for you.

If you really want a cliché that fits this situation, here it is:

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life.

6. Get a Tutor

This is the premium gold-star option. It’ll get you back on track, but it will also cost you a little bit of money.

If you’re failing, the best option is to get one-on-one support. You need a tutor!

There’s two ways to find a tutor:

a) Find an On-Campus Tutor

You could look around for a tutor on your campus. Senior students often post advertisements on campus noticeboards. Take a look on those noticeboards for an email address or phone number of a potential tutor.

A weekly meeting with a tutor to go over your assessment tasks and study goals will be the absolute best way to get you on track.

b) Get an Online Tutor

Online tutors are my preferred option. I find it less awkward to chat with people online (that’s the millennial in me, I guess). I also think online tutors are usually more experienced than random students on your campus.

I’ve suggested many online tutor services to students in the past. It’s hard to find one that’s not scammy or simply an unethical essay writing service. The best quality online tutoring service I’ve come across is Chegg. You can check them out here.

> Read Also: Why College Professors are Bad Teachers

7. Take Library Study and Writing Skills Classes

Your library is the most underused resource at your university.

And you’re paying through the nose for it.

If you’re failing college, you must as a top priority go onto your university library webpage and look for study and writing classes they offer.

Libraries usually offer great classes, such as:

These classes are free and you usually get a lot of time to have one-to-one discussions with the librarians. They’re usually so, so helpful!

I’m always getting librarians coming up to me and asking me to promote the classes they offer. And nearly every student who goes to these classes raves about them.

So, head to some of these classes and try to get some tips on how to improve your grades.

8. Use Writing Support Software

If you feel you may be failing because you don’t know how to write well, this is for you.

Many of my students simply have trouble with paragraph structure, choosing the right words in a sentence or paraphrasing (saying things in your own words).

There are plenty of software out there to help you with this.

The one you might have heard of is Grammarly. I very strongly recommend it! Try Grammarly for free here.

These software all do a good job of showing you how to improve your writing. They will show up tips and tricks about how to improve your sentences to make them more readable, which words you should be using, and more.

What I like about this software is that they point out when your sentences are too long or, simply, confusing. This is a huge deal for students.

9. Get a Study Partner

Studying with other people might really help you to understand the information far better.

This has been a well-known fact in educational literature for many years. Studying in groups helps to promote learning – it’s that simple!

Your study partner will be able to explain ideas and concepts in a way that is new and different to your teacher.

In fact, you’ll find that your friends will be better at explaining things in ways that you understand because they’ll be more on your level.

So how do you find a study partner?

Start off with your friends in class. Simply approach them and ask them if they wanted to start a regular study group. The group could meet in the library once a week to study together, or meet after a lecture to share lecture notes.

If you don’t have a network of friends to study with, jump onto your course’s Facebook page and send out feelers on the Facebook page to see if you can find people willing to join you.

10. Develop a Study Routine

To succeed at university, you will also need to make studying a regular part of your life.

Take a moment to reflect: how often do you really study? Do you study weekly, or only when exams are coming up?

It’s important that you study regularly. So, here’s what I recommend:

Firstly, you need to ensure your study routine is something you can commit to. This means that you should probably start small. Tell yourself that you will study for 1 ½ hours, twice a week.

This is do-able for anyone. Later, you can increase this rate to three or four times a week.

Now, which two days of the week are best for you?

What hour in those days are best for you?

I recommend blocking out this time in your calendar, setting a reminder on your phone, and committing yourself to these specific study times.

The night before a study day, get your study materials together. Ensure you know what topic you’re going to study and ensure you have your pen and paper on-hand.

Lastly, when it’s time to study, find a good place to study. It’s important to be somewhere where you can commit your focus and energy to studying. Consider going to the library or a café – my two favorite study spaces.

11. Try to Make Studying Fun

If you find studying deadly boring, you’re more likely to fail college or simply drop out.

So if you want to get back on track and start studying more regularly (see previous point), you need to have a think about how you’re studying.

I have a detailed post on making studying fun. Here are some top tips from that post:

  • Use Flashcards: Flashcards are one of my favorite ways to study. It really makes studying far more enjoyable. Firstly, writing flashcards is a fun creative activity. So, for your next study session, try to write 30 flashcards up. Secondly, it’s also not too bad actually doing the flashcard studying. Compete against yourself to beat your previous day’s record.
  • Make Study Games for your Friends: Studying with friends already makes studying more fun. But, on top of that, you should consider making up study games for your next study session with your friends. You could come up with a ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ style game where you give them multiple choice questions or make up your own version of ‘heads up’ to make your friends guess a topic after you give them hints.
  • Listen to Music: Listening to happy music while studying can really help you focus for longer. I have a few rules for this. I don’t listen to music with lyrics; and I make sure it’s got a steady beat that I can have on in the background that lulls me into a study mode without distracting me.

I have a ton more bits of advice on this so I recommend checking out that post on making studying fun.

12. Do a Week of Work Experience

My students who do work experience (or ‘practicums’) come back to university changed.

There’s two types of students who come back from work experience:

a) The ‘Renewed Sense of Purpose’ Student

The first (and most common) type of student who comes back from work experience is the ‘a renewed sense of purpose’ student. This student has found out from work experience that, yes, this is the career they want!

These students often don’t really like university. They may even find it completely uninspiring.

But after work experience they come back inspired to get through university because they can now see the light at the end of the tunnel: they know what they’re working towards, now.

b) The ‘This isn’t for me’ Student

Other students come back from work experience convinced that they have made the wrong career choice.

These students realize that it’s not worth committing to a full college degree and all the debt for a career that they’re totally uninterested in.

Either way, you can see that work experience gives you clarity. If you’re failing college, this is what you need: something to give you a clear vision about whether or not it’s worth persisting.

13. Sit in on Another Class then Consider Changing Majors

If you are failing college, it might be because it’s a topic that’s just not your thing.

When I was in high school, I studied Physics, Chemistry and Economics. I barely made it through high school. I was failing most of my classes and didn’t even answer 50% of the questions in my Chemistry final.

So … I sucked at high school.

My solution when I went to university was to study new topics. I did sociology and psychology. Suddenly, in my humanities classes, I was getting marks towards the top of the class.

The moral of the story?

Try something else that you might be better at!

To get started, ask around to your friends to see if they’re enjoying their degrees. Ask your brother and sister, the person down the road, or anyone … find people who loved their university degree!

Then, simply slip into a lecture and spend an hour listening to what the lecturer is talking about. Is it something that you find interesting? Would you prefer that over what you’re doing now?

Plus, you might find that your university will give you credit for any subjects you have already completed. So, your previous subjects won’t have gone to waste.

14. Make Sure College isn’t your Whole Life

If you’re failing college, you need to think about your mental health.

You might be failing college, but life goes on afterwards.

So step back, take a deep breath, and remember to put college aside sometimes.

I am guilty of this.

I get so obsessed with trying to succeed at college (or my job) and forget to socialize. But, you need to remember that life is about balance. If you don’t have friends outside of college, I recommend working on that.

You could try to join local groups, sporting teams, or even get in touch with old friends.

But college can’t be your whole life. If it all falls apart around you, you’ll find yourself in an even harder situation. You need friends outside of university in order to make sure you have a balanced life and a good support network.

So … if you haven’t got a hobby or friends outside of college, work on it. It’ll be so, so valuable to you if you do end up failing out of college.

15. Cut down to Part Time

Another way to manage failing is to give yourself more time to succeed.

So, cut down to only doing a few subjects per semester.

It’s simple logic: if you do half as many courses, you can dedicate more effort to each course.

You’ll also be able to get more balance in your life by starting new hobbies or taking on more paid work.

This is the ideal choice for people considering quitting, but not quite ready to take the leap.

You can always just cut down to part time for one semester and see how it goes. You may find that you’ll be refreshed and ready to head back to full-time after your more relaxing semester. Or, you may be more certain than ever that you want to quit.

Either way, the purpose of cutting down is to get some perspective so you can make a more informed decision.

Just remember: If you’re cutting down to part time, make sure you actually make more of an effort to succeed in the courses you’re actually doing. Remember, you cut down to part time so you increase your chances to succeed – so follow through on that!

16. Take a Semester Off to Rest your Mind

When students come up to me to tell me they’re quitting university, I always recommend this option first.

If you’re failing college and you want to give up, just take a semester off for now. This will give you the option of returning to college after your semester away from it all.

If you straight-up quit immediately, you make regret it in a few months’ time.

So give yourself options!

During your semester off, I recommend making the most of it. Consider going traveling, getting an interesting job or trying a new hobby to see whether quitting college is worth it for you.

Then, you can make a more informed decision in a few months’ time.

You may find that you’re more refreshed than ever after your time off and you’re ready to re-commit to passing your degree.

17. Study Online

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m an online university teacher.

I love online classes. They’re more relaxing and they allow you to study in your own time and space.

Online learning may be for you if you feel like part of the reason you’re failing is that you just hate going to campus. Are you missing classes because you can’t fit them in? Are you skipping class because you can’t be bothered heading into campus?

Well, online classes don’t have those problems.

However, I’ll caution you with this: you’ll have less access to your professor. You may find you have even less support, especially if you’re a student who struggles at university.

So, it’s up to you, but it’s an option! Check out my post on pros and cons of online learning if you’re interested in this option.

18. Look into College Alternatives

Lastly, if you have exhausted all of your options on this post and decided that yes, it’s time to quit, I have an important piece of advice.

Don’t just quit.

You need a plan once you’ve left university. How are you going to pay your way through life? How are you going to work on yourself for self improvement?

I have a full post on alternatives to college that I recommend you check out. On that post, I offer some options for you, like:

  • Going travelling: you can do this on the cheap by volunteering around the world.
  • Becoming a flight attendant, policy officer, or military personnel: each of these job options don’t require you to have a degree, but they have good benefits and can give you a solid career.
  • Studying in community college: do a vocational qualification rather than a university degree. These qualifications are more hands-on so less intellectually demanding. But, they still lead to well paid trade jobs in the end.

Summing Up

Just because you’re failing college now, it doesn’t mean you won’t succeed in the long run. Take the advice in the first half of this post to get yourself back on track.

If you’ve read this post and decided it’s time to quit, make sure you take in mind the advice I provide in the second half of this post which shows you your options. Don’t just quit – phase your exit so that you can change your mind in the next 6 months if you decide to give it another go.

Good luck!

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

2 thoughts on “17+ Things to Do if you’re Failing College”

  1. Rosalie Dickerman

    My son was academically dismissed from his University and is now in his second semester at a community college but is trying to get back to a 4 year university.
    He needs guidance for this process. Can you offer this? Do you know of any other professional services available?? Thank you

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