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What To Do If You’re Failing In College

By Professor Doom


Student: “Hi.”

Me: “Hi. Do I know you?”

Student: “Yeah, I’m in your class.”

Me: “I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

Student: “I know, I’ve had a real problem with attendance, but I want to know what I can do to pass this class?”

Me: “The final exam is in ten minutes. Have you taken even one of the four tests?”

Students: “No. But can I do something for extra credit? Professor [well known fraud and administrative darling] is giving me credit.”

--I get students like this every year or so.

Only a few weeks remain in the semester. This is the time of year I get graduate students offering to pay any hourly fee I ask for help with their assignments. It’s also the time of year that students that have blown off the semester realize that they’re likely to fail the course, and start thinking about what they can do to pass. The main reasons students fail is they don’t come to class, so I’ll talk about what to do in that case first.

I had stuff to do.”

--one student’s excuse for missing classes. The sheer chutzpah of it made me give him a break.

First off, do you have an excuse? If you do, it helps to have a good one. Please, don’t do the grandparent dying thing…that works for missing a day, maybe two days. I’m sorry for your loss, but you’re not going to get a break for a whole semester based on that.

Student: “The reason I missed the whole semester was because my brother murdered his wife, my sister in law, in Mississippi, so my whole family had to go to Mississippi for the trial, you know, for support.”

--this is the kind of excuse that has a chance. I gave the poor girl a break, and told her if she could just pass the exam and last test, I’d pass her. It didn’t work out.

A really good excuse really has to have some reason to explain why you missed a few months of coursework. Even if you do have the excuse, realize this is the modern world: you could have e-mailed at any time to let the professor know what’s up with you, and you need to have an answer for that.


--Stuff-to-do guy took the final, and scored far better than students that had come to class regularly. It would have just been wrong to fail him. To me, a demonstration of skill is far more relevant than sitting at a desk for a few hours.

Even if you have a great excuse, realize that ultimately you’ll need to demonstrate to the professor that you really have a passing knowledge of the course material. If you haven’t learned anything, then you need a different reason for not failing.

Student: “I have mercury poisoning. Here’s my documentation.”

--In over 20 years of teaching in higher education, I’ve given one “I” grade. This was his excuse, and he did look awful. It didn’t work out.

If you’ve missed a few months, know that you don’t know enough to justify passing, and can document a serious reason (typically medical, like a serious auto accident putting you into a coma for weeks), you can get an “I” grade, for Incomplete. This will let you have a few more months to learn the material. It’s very rare, and not one time have I observed a student getting an Incomplete and actually passing the course (because typically, students with severe problems like this really have better things to do than college coursework). But this is one way to avoid an F grade…you’ll just most likely get one a few months later, and faculty really hate dealing with Incomplete students.

Student: “Sniffle.”

--about every semester a girl comes at the end and tries to use tears to get a passing grade. I’ve known a few females that can turn it off and on at will, so this generally goes nowhere, and other faculty tell me they’re seldom moved by mere tears. Despite my constant enforced gender training given by pompous buffoons that insist males and females are the same, I’ve never had a male student try this.

So, you don’t know anything, have crap for an excuse, but still want a break?

Student: “The reason I missed the test two weeks ago is I went out on Saturday night and got hit with a roofie that put me in a coma for almost twelve hours.”

Me: “So you recovered on Sunday?”

Student: “Yeah.”

Me: “The test was on Friday. If you’d told me, you know, a few weeks ago I’d be inclined to give you a few extra days or something, but why did you wait until after the drop date? There’s not much I can do now.”

Student: “So you’re not going to pass me.”

Me: “You missed three weeks before that.”


---she stormed away, and I was thankful.

You have no legitimate reason for passing, but want to pass, and the faculty won’t help you? Try going to admin. As I’ve discussed before, administrators are generally the biggest academic frauds. At the minimum, they’ll politely listen to your complaint. Bring the syllabus, and try to lawyer how the syllabus was unclear what would happen if you’ve missed a test or three…administrators are very easily confused, and you can often confuse them with words.

To be fair, many syllabi do not explicitly say what is meant by “missing a test.” If the professor gives any make-up, then “missing a test” means more than not showing up on test day, obviously. Even if you were absent, you can claim you were there, but the test was lost…or that you attended class but the professor just didn’t mark you down. This puts the professor in the impossible position of trying to prove you were not there, or prove you didn’t take the test…rather than try to deal with admin, the professor will usually just buckle, claim to have found the test and give the student an A.

By the way, I’ve directly observed the previous, so yeah, as corrupt and evil advice as it is, I give it because I’ve seen it work…more often than not (actually, “not” was just one time).

Administration: “I’ve spoken with the student. She was in tears. Please, for the sake of publicity, give this victim of sexual assault an opportunity to make up lost work.”

--roofie girl went to admin. So now I look like a bastard, and I must pass her or make an enemy of admin. She didn’t tell me she was raped, but she did have weeks to just drop the course. I wonder if one can get through med school by claiming to be raped every semester…

So, if all else fails, go to admin. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but depending on the quality of school (the lower the better) and where the admin comes from (for example, admin that has never been faculty, and only has degrees in administration is best).

Now, if you have integrity, and you’re legitimately in college for an education, seriously consider why you’re getting an F. Honest, some professors are jerks—I’ve never known one to give arbitrary F’s, but I’m sure it can happen. It’s not the end of the world. One professor I know has a transcript littered with F’s, D’s, and C’s, barely getting all his degrees with 2.01 GPAs. He’s great and really knows what he’s doing. The only C I got in my college career was in a mathematics course (the professor was a beautiful lecturer, but his tests were insane)…a single bad grade doesn’t mean much.

Still, that F could be a message. If you really come to class every day, do all the work, and actually get an F? Ask yourself if you’re in the right place. Ask yourself if college is the only way if you can learn whatever is, and if you really need to learn it in a college setting. Most college degrees are worthless anyway, and if you’re not going to get college credit, you could just get the books and read on your own time. It makes no sense to pay a fortune in tuition and waste months of your time for no credit at all.

This is all just my advice, of course, but in decades of teaching, I’ve seen many failing students come near the end of the semester and ask for something. The later you go, the worse it will be; don’t even try to get a break 15 minutes before the final exam, trust me on that. Even some administrators don’t have time for that.



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