What Happens If I Fail
A Class In College?

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M. • 10 Minute Read

Failure is scary! The spectrum of emotions that follow, may make you think your future is bleak. We all need achievement that gives us some sense of pride. And when we don't get to make these achievements, shame ensues.

Failing a class in college has effects that might spiral into too many other issues which causes anxiety.

Facing the reality and having to deal with the resultant effects on your financial aid or overall GPA can be daunting. While there is certainly nothing exciting about failing a class, there is always a ray of hope.

As individuals, we pick up on the expectations of those around us as we grow. These expectations are internalized, and when we don't meet up we lose self-confidence. As in the case of failing in college - our peers, lecturers, family and society at large have an expectation of us not failing any class in college. When we don’t meet such internalized expectations, we feel like a disappointment and lose self-confidence. 

However, it is important not to get into the negative loop of devastated self-esteem. It requires ability and putting in the effort to achieve good grades in college and failing a class can happen due to all sorts of random reasons. But, whatever it might be, don't allow it to diminish your self-esteem. It's common for students to struggle academically in at least one class and if you find yourself in such a situation you have options. We'll outline steps you can take to mitigate its spiralling effects. But first let's make plain, the effects failing a class can have and how it affects your college career.

Effects Of Failing A Class On Your College Career

Failing Negatively Affects Your Grade Point Average (GPA)

As a College Student, it is of help to know how to calculate GPA. Because these calculations vary by university, it's useful to consult directly with your advisor or read policies online. But usually, a 4.0 scale is used. With A = 4.0, B= 3.0, C =2.0, D= 1.0, F=0. With proper knowledge on how to calculate your GPA, you can see how much of an effect a failed class will have on your overall GPA.

Your classes are either pass/fail or letter grades. Typically, you shouldn't take more than one course in pass/fail in a semester. Depending on your college, a pass/fail course is only possible with C and above. While below C is regarded as failing that class. Passing a pass/fail class has no effect on your GPA. But failing it can harm your GPA. In most cases, when you pass the class, the units count on your transcript toward reaching your graduation requirements. If you fail, though, the zero points can harm your GPA since you are adding zero points into your GPA calculation. This is because the course still counts as a class you took, so your GPA is divided by a larger number of classes, but the sum of your grades remains unchanged. For a letter grade course that comprises most of your courses, a failed class definitely reduces your GPA upon averaging. It reduces it to varying degrees depending on the number of credits of the course. The higher the number of credits of the failed class, the higher its effect on harming your GPA. Even after a retake of the course, the failed class is still shown in your transcript

Financial Aid Status

With the exorbitant price of tertiary education, only a few can afford college outrightly. Getting financial aid is such a relief but, it comes with its own responsibility which varies depending on its source. Financial aid is given based on certain criteria ranging from 'need' to good grades, to outstanding sports skills and others. It is important to know the policies of your specific financial aid provision and analyze the impact of a failed class. Financial aid comes mostly in form of grants, scholarships or loans in no particular order. 

Arguably, grants are the best kind of financial aid to receive considering you don't have to pay back and it's need-based. They are issued by the government, non-profit organization or your university. Common grants such as the Pell Grant from the government will not be lost due to a failed class. However, accumulated failed classes increase the chances of being cut off the grant in subsequent reapplications. For the Pell grant, withdrawing from school for reasons like failed classes can cause you to pay some or all of the money received as a grant.

Scholarships are typically not need-based but merit-based aids contingent on your academic achievement. Failing a class may cause you to lose the scholarship, or even worse, have to pay back any money that has already been issued. Retaining a scholarship will require maintaining your GPA within the threshold stipulated in the terms of the scholarship. If failing a class causes your GPA to reduce below the threshold, then the scholarship will be lost but if not, you retain it.

Loans are not so desirable but are a common option for financial aid. Terms are however very student-friendly with lower requirements to maintain funding.  Accumulated failed classes reduce the chances of graduating and building a proper career, making it harder to pay back as costs keep accumulating and will be due whether you graduate or not.

Staying Eligible For Financial Aid

Your failed class can affect your financial aid as said earlier; if it reduces your GPA below the threshold. The University's Office of Student Financial Aid can be of utmost help. Contact them immediately to analyze the extent of its effect on your funding package. They might also suggest a solution such as an appeal. Some packages give room for academic-slips every now and then and you could just benefit from that provided there is academic progress. In the event you lose your financial aid, knowing early-on will help you consider ways to sustain funding such as getting student loans to finish your college education. Remember, do not hesitate to see the officers immediately. Don't allow embarrassment to hinder you from reaching out. These officers are expected to be non-judgemental.

Graduate Admissions After A Failed Class 

Typically, to apply for graduate school, your transcript comes in handy. A failed class may or may not affect your chances at grad school. It depends on the class you failed and how important it is to the new course of study in grad school. The requirements are different for several schools, with some schools being more strict than the others.

What To Do After Failing A Class

Yes, it takes a toll on your emotions. Don't wallow in the event for too long but, a little retrospection can help. Without being too hard on yourself, think of what went wrong and what might have been the reason for failing the class.

Seek Help To Ease Your Stress & Emotions

When failing a class, there are various people you should seek help from.


Your school Counselor is there for you and can help in so many ways. They are typically there to support you and you can talk to them about the issues you face without feeling judged. They can link you up with tutors, meetings or study groups that can be of help. Counselors are usually well versed in events like this and can discuss possible options with you according to the schools' policy.


Your Professors want you to have good grades and they can provide you with materials or extra credits assignments that you can use to scale up your grade. See if it is possible to redo assignments that you scored poorly in or you can also make up for work undone. You might also qualify for "incomplete" rather than fail in the course. This happens when the reason for the failure was due to an illness, emergency or maybe the death of an immediate family member. If you qualify for it, you'll be given reasonable time to complete your work in the form of assignments undone during the term. The Professor was once a student like you, and can also give tips on how to do better at his/her course.


If a retake is an option, your friends can be of great help, especially those in your class. Accountability from them can go a long way in helping you study and put in more dedication into improving your efforts towards school. Asking for help from others who did well in the course can be good too. They might have resources that were of great help to them.

Private Tutor

If the Professor isn't helping in any way, you can reach out to a private tutor who can explain better. This usually comes at an extra cost though.

Conclusion: What To Do If You’re Failing

Failing doesn't mean the end of the world for you. Reaching out does a great deal to support you in getting out of this phase gracefully. You're not the first to fail a class and you won't be the last. Many have failed a class and have gone ahead to be great people, achieving their dreams. You can too!

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
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