What Happens If You Fail a Class in College?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Find out what happens if you fail a class in college and figure out how to make a plan for progress and academic success.

[Featured Image] A college student studies in the library after failing a class in college.

If you fail a class in college, you have options to improve your situation. Discover some immediate consequences you might face and explore what to do going forward by perusing this guide. As with most challenges in life, preparation allows you to move through this situation more efficiently and with less stress.

What happens if you fail a class in college? 

If you fail one of your college courses, you will likely have some consequences to face, as well as some choices to make on how to handle the situation best and set yourself up for success. Taking the right steps is easier if you know what to expect. Before you plan your next steps, consider the immediate results of your failing grade. 

Consequences of failing a college class

The consequences you'll face after failing a college class depend on your particular educational institution. So, make sure you become familiar with your school's policies by talking to an academic advisor on campus. Common repercussions of a failing grade include:

Damage to your grade point average (GPA)

Your college calculates your GPA by dividing the number of quality points you get for each class by the number of credits you've completed for the semester. Grades A, B, C, D, and F earn you from 4 to 0 points, respectively. Therefore, if you get an F in a class, you'll earn 0 points toward your GPA. Because your credits for the class still count, the F can lower your GPA significantly. So, it's important to remember that the lower your grade, the more damage to your GPA. 

An F on your transcript

If you are one of several applicants vying for a job after college, your potential employer may use your college transcripts and GPA as a screening tool. That's why it's good to keep failing grades off your transcripts if you can. If you do fail a class, most employers appreciate an honest explanation of why it happened and how you handled your failure.

Academic probation or suspension

Failing one or more classes could result in academic probation or suspension, depending on your school's policy or the requirements for your major. Most schools place students on academic probation if they fall below a minimum 2.0 GPA at the end of any semester. If you don't meet the minimum GPA the following semester, chances are you'll face academic suspension, which means you will not be able to take classes until a certain time period has passed.

Issues with your financial aid 

If you receive a scholarship, grant, or student loan, you must show sufficient academic progress and take a minimum amount of credits to keep your financial aid. For student loans and Pell Grants, you'll likely need to take at least 12 credits per semester and stay at or above a 2.0 GPA. However, some merit-based scholarships require at least 12 credits per semester and a 3.0 or 3.5 minimum GPA for renewal. 

What should you do after you’ve failed a class?

Failing a class can provide an opportunity for personal growth if handled properly. To get through this situation with the least amount of stress, stay calm, decide whether to retake the class and speak with your academic advisor.

Stay calm

If you fail a class in college, remember you're not the first, and you won't be the last. Although you may feel discouraged and self-conscious, how you deal with the situation is what counts, not the failure itself.

Decide whether to retake the class.

If your bachelor's program requires that you pass the class you've failed, you'll have to retake it. Consider retaking a class quickly while you still remember the course material. If you don't need the class to graduate in your major, you may have the option of retaking it or letting the grade stand.

Schools may differ when it comes to repeating a failed class. Some schools allow you to replace the failing grade (and credits earned) entirely. Others take an average of the two classes to determine your credits earned. 

Speak with your academic advisor.

Before you decide whether to retake your failed course, make an appointment with your academic advisor. As the name implies, your advisor is there to give you advice and can suggest resources that may help you along the way. 

4 strategies to improve academic performance.

Ensuring future academic success may take some practice. Consider four strategies for improving your grades. 

1. Determine why you failed the class.

After you've failed a class, make time to think about why it happened. Maybe you don't enjoy the class material. Maybe you need to lighten your course load. Perhaps you're spending too much time socializing and not enough time studying. Acknowledging the reasons for your failure helps you understand how to move forward in a productive way.

2. Make a plan to avoid a repeat.

Once you've determined why you've failed a class, you can make a plan to avoid failing or doing poorly in a future class. Consider these strategies:

  • Visit your school's student service center to get study tips and tutoring help.

  • Explore different study styles like color-coded notes, flashcards, and mind-mapping.

  • Take a lighter course load if necessary.

  • Don't miss classes except in cases of emergency.

  • Change your area of study if needed.

  • Visit your school's counseling service to manage stress.

3. Get more organized. 

Sometimes, getting more organized can help boost your academic success. Try these tips for better organization:

  • Keep all your papers, syllabi, and spreadsheets in one place, such as Google Drive. 

  • Use a wall calendar, digital calendar, or day planner for class schedules, assignments, and school events.

  • Develop a routine (e.g., wake-up time, meals, classes, study time, extra-curriculars, bedtime, etc.)

4. Make sleep a priority.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults (age 18 and above) need at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal mental and physical health [1]. To help improve your sleep, build better sleep habits. These might include:

  • Lowering your thermostat for sleep

  • Keeping your bedroom quiet and dark

  • Avoiding food, alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine close to bedtime

  • Going to sleep and waking up on a schedule

Next steps on Coursera.

To set yourself up for greater success in college, consider taking U 101: Understanding College and College Life, offered by the University of Washington on Coursera. Topics you'll explore include how universities operate, succeeding with self-directed studying, how to pick a major, what college professors look for in assignments, campus clubs and groups, and more. Hopefully, this course leaves you feeling much more prepared for the college experience.

Article sources

  1. National Sleep Foundation. "How Much Sleep Do You Need?, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need." Accessed March 18, 2024.

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