Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You Failed Your Class... Now What?

Yes, a friend of mine just died.

Yes, the construction next door continues... starting at 7 a.m. this morning, in fact.

So, I'm thinking that you may be thinking, "The Chatty Professor is bringing me down! Just look at the title of this week's post!"

And, indeed, while I've written about some challenges of late, I still have my practicality about me.

During a run a few days ago, I mentally replayed all of the "get ready for finals" tips I'd seen via blogs, articles, etc. over the past week or so.

Let's just say more than I can effectively count.

And many of those tips are very useful.

But what few people talk about is what happens after the grades come in.

That's right:  When students say to profs:

-"Is that really my final grade?"

-"But I can't fail! I really needed a 3.5 in this class to transfer."

-"I can't have a 0.0 and still get financial aid!"

...when finals are already finished, and grades have been calculated.

Then you just might have to pick up the pieces of "I didn't get the grade I wanted/needed. Oh, crap!"

What do you do then?

Let's talk about it...

First thing's first:  You have to meet with your professor, even if your inclination is to take the knife with which you carved your Thanksgiving turkey and scratch it alongside his/her car.

Ideally, your meeting with the prof should take place before official grades are posted. I don't want to give you any false hope that the failing grade will change, but in case your discussion with the prof reveals some new opportunity, it is far easier for the prof to alter the grade before an official grade change form is required.

Where do most students go wrong in this "I failed" meeting? (Aside from the fact that barely any students actually take the time to have this meeting...): 

-They are angry and blame the professor for the failing grade:  "Your class was too hard! I could have done better if there was less work/more time/fewer tests."
-They are frustrated and express disbelief that the failing grade is happening:  "I don't deserve this and I wasn't expecting to fail this class!"
-They suddenly wake up and take notice of their grades after not giving them a second thought all term:  "I thought I was doing better. I only missed a couple of assignments."
-They beg (and possibly bribe) for a last-minute save to avoid the ominous fate of failure: "I have to do something... Extra credit. I'll redo work. I'll wash your car, mow your lawn... anything."

But what should you say?

Before you say anything, calculate your grade yourself and make sure that your totals match the professor's. If your calculations aren't revealing a failing grade, then your first question is, "Can you show me how you arrived at this number of points? I see that I have a D, but you show that I'm failing."

(Hey, a D may bust up your GPA, but you can still usually pull your credit out of the class. And GPA's can be averaged up later, or you can retake the class).

Now let's say you get confirmation that you did fail. You'll want to determine the reason why before you continue the discussion--hopefully before you even walk into your professor's door.

In my experience with hundreds and hundreds of students, failure takes some work, even if the "work" involves wrestling with the decision to do nothing. If you tried your absolute best and just didn't cut the mustard (who cuts mustard, anyway? I actually Googled the origination of this phrase--give it a try. I found that the originator may have meant "mustard seed", which is, indeed, hard to cut. But that just doesn't quite have the right ring, does it? Hmm...), then you did do something.

What you likely didn't do was see your professor enough for help or check your grades earlier to find out how your average was coming along. No judgment in that statement whatsoever, but being honest about the why is the quickest way to figure out how to change things for next time.

In this case, you would say to your prof, "I have failed this class. Based on my grades, it may appear that I didn't even try, but I did. Where I went wrong is not asking for help when I really needed it and checking in with you to see what I could have done differently." 

(If, in reality, you did very little work and the "F" is no surprise, the conversation is still worth having. Definitely own up and say, "My habits were not ideal this term. I made some mistakes and I'm going to pay for them now, but I'd like to do better next time.")

You can add, "I realize there is probably nothing I can do at this point, but I wanted to meet with you anyway just to confirm my grade and ask for your suggestions as to my next steps." 

What are those next steps?

Well, your prof could investigate how close you were to a passing grade and offer you some extra credit. But he/she may not do this, and is certainly not required to. You can ask, but really, it's likely too late for that.

More than likely, your prof will discuss your retaking the class. Then, you'll have to figure out if you can repeat the class (particularly if you used financial aid to pay for it, you will probably have to pay yourself on the second go-around), and if you want to stick with that prof when you do.

I have definitely had students either drop my course or fail it (the latter is a far, far fewer number) and then return a term or two later and they are actually ahead of the game. They know about the assignments, they know my expectations, they know what they have to do. Familiarity with a prof/class is one large benefit to retaking a class. Don't discount it! Even if you switch to another prof in the department, you'll still have a leg up on the subject matter.

Other things you can ask:

-"Would I be eligible for an Incomplete in this class?" At many colleges, an Incomplete is usually not available for an academic reason, but it's worth checking into.
-"Is it too late to drop this class so my transcript shows a 'W', rather than a failing grade?" Again, probably not possible, but can't hurt to ask.
-"Are you teaching this class again next term? What recommendations would you make so I have a better chance of passing?"

I know you will probably want to run off your campus and stay away for a while. But an "F" does not mean that you can't or won't reach your educational goals. Many great students have failed a class (myself, included... remember this post?) and went on to overcome it and excel. With the idea that you will return and thrive, I want to encourage you to have three other campus conversations before your next term starts:

Financial Aid Department: "I failed my class. How will this affect my financial aid?" Of course, you'll need to see what financial ramification the "F" has and how that will affect your future aid. This also applies to any scholarships you've received. 

Counseling Services: (Typically free on campuses and especially important if a life or other crisis situation got in the way of you doing your best) "I failed my class because I was going through X. I would like some support to make sure that I do better next term." Why not get as much help in place as possible? Then follow up with your appointments!  

Your Academic Adviser: "I failed my class. I was on track to graduate in (month/year). How does this affect my plan? Do you recommend changes to my upcoming class schedule?"

And, if you failed every class this term, ask your adviser: "What is the college's policy on academic renewal?"

Academic renewal is a one-shot opportunity that many colleges offer to erase a term from your transcript. Different colleges have different rules about academic renewal:  Some colleges require you to wait for a period of time before making the request. Often, you wipe out the whole term; you can't pick and choose a couple classes that you didn't fail and ask to keep that credit.

Your Parents:  As a parent, myself, not intentionally putting this one last, but you probably will have to come clean to your parents. Will they flip out? Quite possibly, but if you own up to your mistakes quickly and have a ready plan for improvement, the blow might be lessened:  

"I failed my class this term. I want to be honest with you. I know you'll be disappointed and I'm disappointed in myself. The only way I can do better is by changing the way I did things this term. So, here's my plan: I saw my professor and he suggested ___________. I went to see my academic adviser and she suggested _________ (mention any other pre-emptive measures you've taken). I feel more confident about going into next term and am confident that with this support in place, I'll be able to turn this around. 

Of course, don't miss this opportunity to ask for any specific help that your parents could give you!

Wonderful student (and, yes, you're still wonderful, even if failed a class!), I'm going to step out of the practical advice for a moment and get a little psychological/emotional on you:

Your "F" grade does not have to define you.

Failure is part of your journey right now, but you are not a failure.

Yes, it's time to get really honest with yourself about why you failed the class. Too many students blame all sorts of external forces. By owning up to what went wrong and specifically what you did or didn't do that contributed to the outcome, you can take steps to make positive changes for next time. If you truly believe that the failure was something done to you, then one of the conversations above will help you find a remedy.

For now, strategizing your next move and communicating with those on and off campus who have signed up to support you is your absolute best measure.

Be truthful, be humble, be open.

People are more inclined to help you when they see that you genuinely want to create change.

I'd love to say that this is the last time in your life that something won't go the way you hoped. One of my favorite books is When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner. Full disclosure: It is somewhat more religious than I am (Kushner is a Rabbi whose own faith was challenged when he lost his son to a rare, terminal illness), but the core message resonates with me:

"Why did this happen to me?" is the wrong question to ask.

The right question is, "What will I do now that this has happened to me?" 

Digging deep to answer that question, dear student, is, in my opinion, the opposite of failure.

Students, have you failed a class? How did you overcome it? Colleagues from all parts of education and business, what is your advice for getting past a failing grade?


  1. Ellen, aloha. It is so important to ask the "right" question because any other gives an incorrect answer. Far too often, people ask what comes to mind rather than what they want to know or need to do. Until next time, aloha. Janet

  2. Hi, Janet,

    I totally agree with you. For students, asking the right question means looking at the truth and taking responsibility. Actually, I guess that's what we all have to do to ask the right question and move forward :-).

    I appreciate you!

  3. Ellen, excellent advice! I know all too well the humbling experience of having to go to a professor to ask for help. Especially for students who typically do well, if they struggle in a certain class and end up failing, it is much easier to defensively blame it on the professor or stress in their lives. It's hard to come to terms with failure. But I love the sugesstion of going to the professor and asking his or her advice on which steps to take next.

  4. Oh, Doug... seriously. I wish, wish, wish more students would actually close the loop and have the conversation! I know it's embarrassing and difficult. We've all been there on various levels (I am thinking of Weight Watchers weigh-in's on weeks that I know didn't go so well ;-).

    But there is so much to be gained from just owning up to whatever happened and dealing with it.

    I'm always so glad to hear from you :-).

  5. Hi, I'm a sophomore just getting grades in for the semester...fall of my freshman year, I "failed" a class...passed, but with a D and didn't get credit for it because it was a requirement for my major. I also did fairly badly in other classes that semester, I'm still trying to recuperate from the huge first hit to my GPA and I'm still struggling with classes. Do you have any suggestions for bringing your GPA up to par when you can't seem to find your feet at the college level?

  6. Hi, Sam,

    I'm so glad that you wrote! You are totally NOT alone in your situation. Many students find themselves struggling through the first year or so of college.

    I would like to answer your question in a longer post and even correspond with you via e-mail. I think you could help a lot of others who are in the same situation.

    Feel free to answer the questions I'm asking via e-mail: chattyprof@gmail.com

    First of all, I'm wondering what measures you've taken already: Have you gone to see a prof or two that you trust and ask them what their recommendations are about what could have gone better in their classes?

    Second question: Is there a specific component of your classes that you're finding to be a challenge? For example, test-taking? Writing research papers? Dealing with sources? Each of these issues can be helped separately with various resources on campus, which is why I'm asking.

    Third question: It sounds like your first term had some challenges. Will you have to retake all of your classes? Or just the one with the "D" because it pertains to your major? Does your college allow academic renewal so you can clear out that term?

    Fourth question: Are you in a two-year program that requires a certain GPA to get into a four-year program? Of course, most students want all A's and B's, but the reality is that many students have some C's sprinkled in their transcript. This, of course, all depends on your major and if you need certain grades as a springboard.

    I'd love to help further if you feel comfortable answering these questions.


  7. What about when you really didn't deserve the grade? My professor was her first time teaching, she was proud and completely inflexible. She is failing a straight A student!

  8. Hi, Anonymous,

    I would love to hear more, and please feel free to e-mail at chattyprof@gmail.com. When you say "What about when you really didn't deserve the grade?", are you referring to work that you turned in that didn't get the grades you were expecting? Were you tested in just one way i.e., all rote memorization, multiple choice tests?

    When you say that the prof was inflexible, what was she inflexible about?

    As a straight A student, I'm sure you've already developed some pretty great habits, such as talking to the professor ahead of time and respectfully discussing grades that you disagree about. Did your professor make herself available for this?

    If you can answer a few more questions, I would be glad to follow up with some further advice.


  9. I have failed 3 classes in total, and that's becasue of many issues such as my english was not my primary lang so it was hard for me. But now I did retook all the failed classes and I did much better. There is nothing wrong with F it's just you need to be patient studying or going to tutoring .. gluck everyone and never give up never having an F it doesnt mean nothing nothing at all :)

  10. I took Honors Eng.1 in Freshman. But I failed that class. I had a B for 1st qtr, C for 2nd, F for 3rd, and F for 4th because I decided to not take the exam, I was just not ready to take it because I didn't study. I couldn't take it the next day because I was suppose to go off the country to visit my family.
    Now I'm a sophomore. I'm taking Edison class for English. I will be taking English 10 this summer. I'm worried if I won't be able to get in to any colleges.. i really need your help.

  11. Hi, Leigh,

    This is my old blog site. My blog has moved to http://ellenbremen.com, just so you know.

    I'm not really sure what Edison class is, whether that is the name of a teacher or a specific class. The bottom line is that it sounds like maybe there are some issues that are preventing you from doing the absolute best that you can with your classes. You mentioned that you didn't take the exam, but what was the reason that you didn't study?

    I think it is time to look at the real reasons why these grades are happening and get honest with yourself. Is it the work? Poor time management? Other issues? It is also time to talk to someone else that you can trust about what is really going on, whether it is a school counselor, your teacher, family member--or maybe a combination of all of those people. You need to tell everyone honestly, "I am really struggling with this English class and I am worried that I am not going to get into college."

    I think it is premature to be worried about not getting into any colleges. You are only a sophomore, so there is a lot of time to bring up your GPA. Also, remember that there are a ton of colleges out there, not all of them are as GPA-dependent. You can also start at a community college if you need to take your time working through strengthening your English courses before going on to a university. That is exactly what community colleges are there for, if you need some additional instruction in that area before it is time for the university environment. I'm just saying that there are tons of options, so don't panic just yet about not getting into college. That's not something to worry about right now.

    For the moment, let's focus on why these grades are happening and try to fix that issue. Get to the bottom of why those F's are occurring and see about turning those issues around for your current term. I'd like you to get as much support around you as possible, though, whether it be from friends, family, or your school.

    Feel free to contact again if I can help.

  12. Leigh, I just saw this piece that came out in USA Today. I thought you'd find it helpful!


  13. I have given an incomplete mark on my transcript for failing to submit the necessary requirement of the subject. Now the deadline for completion was ended and i failed to complete it. I would be given a fail mark.:( Guess i have to take the subject again. Is it okay to have a fail mark? I am second year in college and i am aiming to graduate with honors.

  14. Hello ChattyProf,

    I was wondering, in your estimations, how common is it for a student to fail a course by exactly one point? It recently happened to me and I suspect my professor of foul play.

    I think a revision of how grades are issued in college should be considered. She has no idea how hard I've worked and how much I've learned in her class this semester. I feel it would be redundant for me to take this class over, I am very confident about that. I received a 73 which is a D on the 7-point scale, one point away form a C. As far as I'm concerned a D is a failing grade, especially when we're required to take it over.

    I am a young Black man and I think she is intimidated by my appearance. There is one other Black guy in the class but you can tell we come from different walks of life, he is more of a prep type, she treats him very well. Me on the other hand, she never makes eye contact with me, when I say hello to her everyday she ignores me and she seems very timid like she had a bad experience with a Black man or something it's kind of weird, she's like a nervous wreck whenever I'm around.

    I'm not a thug, if I was I wouldn't be a senior at a university. I think it's time that America starts to understand African American culture the same way we recognize Hispanic and Asian cultures, our styles and sense of fashion has nothing to do with the way we live our lives.

    I'm sorry for such a rant, I just never have anyone to talk to and you seem like a good woman/professor/advisor, how many ever proverbial hats you wear.

    Thanks for your time.

  15. Hi, Dick Jones,

    I am in finals now, but I'm definitely going to respond to this more thoroughly and I'd like to see if I can help further. In short, no... I do every single possible thing I can to ensure that a student at least can pull the credit out of the course. I had an "F" on my transcript. It nearly kept me out of grad school. I know what kind of damage that can do, from an academic perspective and from a financial aid perspective (for some students). I feel that a "D" does enough damage, a "C"... whatever... to the GPA, if that is what the outcome is.

    If it is the difference between just a point, I highly doubt that I would ever let that be the determining factor, unless there was such an incredibly low work ethic that I truly believed the student desperately needed to retake the course.

    I'd like to correspond with you on the matter you describe. Would you e-mail me? chattyprof@gmail.com.


  16. PS: My blog has moved to http://ellenbremen.com, just FYI :-)

  17. Hey chatyprofessor!

    This is my first time reading a blog from you and it helped me cope. Thank you!

    I have a question though, I'm currently in running start taking Political Science 2012 and English 101. I know I did great in Eng101 but not in my PolSci202 class. My Political Science class is online and I failed to send my final exam so it closed even before I could hit send. I just emailed my teacher and told her what happened, asking if I can send it again. Since it automatically grades the test itself, I received a 0/100. Now my grade went down to 71%. Do you have any suggestions on what I could tell my teacher? I don't want to lose my running start privilege because of this :( I know C is still a decent grade but it's just. . . bad :(

    Thank you!

    1. Hi, Makichan,

      Just a quick FYI... my blog has moved to http://ellenbremen.com. Same Chatty Professor advice, just different URL, but this is still updated with links.

      Anyway, on to your concern! I think the fact that you e-mailed your prof right away was the best step you could have taken. This is what I tell students to do in my online classes--to e-mail me immediately so you have proof that you made an attempt. Was this due to a technical issue or were you just unable to get it in on time? I think since your e-mail will have the time stamp, that could work in your favor. What I would do is do everything you can to get in touch with your prof, including via telephone. See if you can still submit that final exam because a zero there could create a big problem for you grade-wise. I agree with you that a "C" is not a terrible grade, but it is not what you want, obviously.

      The issue with finals being delivered online is that there could be technical issues that prevent students from submitting. If this was the case on your end and if you e-mailed immediately, tell your prof, "I tried to send my exam and it did not go through. I e-mailed you at X-time to let you know. Please let me know what my options are."

      You may not have options, but hopefully you will! The most important thing is just do NOT wait until the last minute to submit, particularly in an online class. I always tell my students that they are just tempting for something to go wrong because everyone waits until the end.

      Good luck!

  18. Ellen,
    I have an issue that is really bothering me. My friend and I spent all day Tuesday in the library studying the same exact material for our microbiology exam Wednesday. (it was a practice test for our exam online) the only difference is his class is lecture style and mine is online.

    Wednesday rolled around and he scored a 102 on it. I didn't take mine later that evening but my friend said the test was identical to the practice test we was using to study. I go in later that evening to take my test and it is completely different then the practice test he issued us. The diagrams and pictures were of something that wasn't even on the practice test. Needless to say I failed that exam and ended up with a D in the course...which I needed a C.

    I can't help but to feel upset and I think that is extremely unfair....what are my options and what would you advise doing? Thanks! Brodie

  19. Hi, Brodie,

    Ugh! I have been there. I once got a 92 on a paper in grad school and my colleague got a 95, but that person had fewer red-marked comments. I was pissed!

    Anyway, on to your situation, and this is only going to be based on my experience, but I do have a pretty thick history in teaching online and face-to-face: It sounds like the face-to-face version of this class is pretty consistent and that the study materials were very close to the actual exam. There are times that online versions of the same course are never "watched" to ensure that they are maintaining the integrity of what the on-campus version is doing. Sure, online instructors have freedom to present curriculum as they wish, but they can't vastly change curriculum to make it look nothing like an on-campus section. This may be the case of your online course, or it may not. You'll have to do some digging to find out.

    One thing I know about building online teaching is that although faculty have the right to present curriculum in their own way, it should be fairly consistent to what is being used in the classroom. That said, your prof certainly has the right to develop his/her own exam. What I'm wondering, however, is if there is a departmental exam that should have been used and was not. This is something you need to find out. It seems highly, highly unusual that you and your friend were given the same practice materials (you were each given those, yes?) and then had vastly different exams--particularly one that covered nothing from the study guide.

    On the other hand, if every single class had the same exam, there could be a security issue, too, because clearly students could tell each other what is on the exam. But I would still take this up with your professor or even a division/department chair because, bottom line, if each of you were given the exact same study materials and then two distinctly different tests, one unrelated to the material, that's a problem.

    The other question I have for you is that you note you have a D in the course. Was the final worth enough points to bring you to the D? Or were you already struggling? No judgment at all on my end... believe me. The sciences were not strong for me at all. I'm only asking because you may have to speak to the rest of your grade standing when you confront this issue.

    I would say, "I am very concerned about my final exam. I studied with a friend who happens to be taking the same course, but in a face-to-face section. I'm in an online course. We were given the exact same study materials in our classes.

    My friend's test was consistent with the study materials. My test had nothing to do with the study materials. Can we please take a look at the test and the study materials and discuss why this happened? It had a significant impact on my grade. I had a C in this course already and felt comfortable holding on to that, but this exam made it impossible. I would think that if the study materials in the on-campus section and the online section were the same, then the exams would have been similar. I asked my friend about his exam score and it was much higher. I don't make it a habit to compare my grades, but since we studied together to help each other, it was natural that this would come up. I would appreciate any help that you can provide to help me understand what happened."

    Ordinarily, I would say to never, ever bring up another student's grades or outcome because it doesn't matter in your situation. But this situation is one of those special circumstances where you do need to bring it up.

    I wish you luck and hope you'll report back and let me know what you find out. You are welcome to e-mail at chattyprof@gmail.com.


  20. Hey chatty professor, I'm a freshman in college and i just completed my first semester. I didn't due to great in my classes due to a lot of personal stuff going on in life (surgery,kidney stones, and a car accident) with all this going on i wasn't able to focus on school as much as i'd like. Im scarred that i'm going to lose my financial aid, i'm not to sure what to do at this point.

    1. Hello,

      Wow! You have had a lot going on and it sounds like you made it through anyway. Give yourself credit for that. If you are worried about losing financial aid, then either you didn't hit the GPA that you needed to or you have failed some classes?

      My first advice is actually in hindsight: The minute you were going through the issues you mentioned, your profs needed to know about them. They were serious and longitudinal--meaning... they were clearly not quick "excuse" type issues. This falls into my requirements for the type of situation that you definitely work out with your professors so they know what's happening with you and can work with you through your term.

      So I'm assuming that you didn't do that and may have to now do damage control? First, find out if there is any risk to your financial aid and what the exact penalty is going to be. Know your facts so you know what you have to solve.

      Then, go talk to your profs. Tell them the struggles that you went through and that you made a huge mistake not coming to them sooner. You can say, "I really thought I could handle these issues on my own and being a freshman, I didn't realize that I should have come to you the minute they were happening."

      There probably is not much you can do to make your grades better at this point. The only thing you might be able to do is see if even one prof might be willing to transition a grade to an "incomplete" based on a medical reason. This would mean that you could either redo something or possibly submit something that you might have missed because of your medical issues. Maybe more than one will go for this--who knows?

      Typically, an incomplete allows you a little more time to finish up work, but you'd have to make sure that doesn't impact your financial aid. You would not have to retake the class or pay for the class again.

      The biggest takeaway from this situation is to be as proactive as possible next term. If anything happens to you, let your professors know IMMEDIATELY so they can work with you! Later on in your academic career, you may want to retake these classes to bring your grade up, or you may be able to do an "academic renewal," which would mean wiping this term off your transcript (some colleges allow this just one time), but you'd lose all the credits.

      There are likely some options--you just have to do some investigation.

      I wish you luck!

  21. I received 2 D's out of 5 courses this semester. I am an older student and I gave everything I had to this semester. Since I already knew that the one course was hard for me, I spent extra time and effort in that class. I tried new ways of learning the material, went to office hours, etc. The other class I got a D in, I also went to office hours and an open lab that they had each week. I frequently emailed and spoke to the instructor when I was having a tough time with something, and we had a chance to "redo" any assignments that weren't 100%, which I took advantage of. I am 51 years old. Graduating from college is the only hope I have left for my life. I got the "come to Jesus" talk from the pre-veterinary advisor where I was told I’m not the caliber of student who would ever get accepted into vet school. That absolutely broke my heart and smashed my dreams. So, I chose the next closest major - Wildlife Biologist. I had never received a D, let alone an F, before I took college algebra -- I failed the course twice, before I finally passed. I didn't get any more D's or F's until the semester I enrolled in Calculus (a course I have to pass in order to get my degree). Spending so much time in office hours, taking the class twice each day (with another instructor as well as my own), with tutors, and in guided study hall, I did poorly on most of my other classes. I got put on academic probation. I took calculus again, and failed again. Now, I'm terrified to take it, but I have to pass it in order to get my degree. I'm really feeling dumb, worthless, can't find a job… an epic failure at life. This is the only hope I have in my life of accomplishing something good, feeling like I'm worthwhile and for living out the rest of my life doing something I love and making a difference. I don't understand where I am falling short in my studies, but it's not acceptable for me. In some cases, there are situations which did not enhance my learning, due to classroom settings, but other people did well, so what's wrong with me? Why did I have a problem learning the information? Getting this degree means everything to me. It's my chance to redeem myself, to do something good in this world, and feel like I'm worthwhile. I keep getting back up on my feet when I get knocked down, but to be honest, some days I feel so hopeless that I want to jump in front of a semi, or drive my car off of a cliff. I know that sounds nuts, but a person can only take so much. My life has not been very good. Not any of it. That's why it is so important for me to accomplish this, so I feel that I am worthy, I am intelligent and so I can be an inspiration to others like me. Many people have told me that I am an inspiration to them, for attempting this so late in my life. Do you know how it feels to hear that, and then fail? This is all I want in my life. It is everything to me. I feel so stupid and unworthy. After so much effort, I had hoped to have a great feeling and a sense of accomplishment. Instead, I'm looking for semis and cliffs. I am in a really bad place in my head and in my life. I met with a psychologist last semester, but that didn’t seem to help. What I really would like is a mentor. Someone who is doing what I want to do, or maybe a woman professor at the school, who had struggles through school, but made it. I don’t have anyone I can talk to about this. Everyone’s advice is it to either quit, or to knock my life dreams down another notch because maybe I’m just not smart enough. It’s Christmas time and I feel like a nothing. I don’t even feel like celebrating the holidays. I am in a precarious position in my mind and I feel like I’m slipping off the wrong side. All I want is to accomplish my dreams. They aren’t unreasonable dreams, yet I feel like I’m constantly facing huge road blocks and my own doubts, now, that I’m not smart enough to do this. If that is correct, then all hope, for me, is gone.

    1. Hello,

      I thank you for writing to me. Just a quick FYI... my blog has moved to http://ellenbremen.com. Same Chatty Professor advice, just different URL, but this is still updated with links.

      I want to try to give you the best advice that I can, but I do find that I am having a lot of questions.

      First of all, are you attending a community college or a university? If you are attending a university, my first advice is to possibly retake these math classes at a CC. The dynamic can be very different.

      Also, I am wondering what the basis was for the program adviser who told you that you "were not the caliber of student" who would be accepted into their program? On what grounds? That is just one program. Are there others? Have you spoken with actual veterinarians to gauge some of their suggestions of programs or to see if you can job shadow? What about working temporarily as a veterinary assistant or even interning? This would give you an edge up in getting into a program, I would think.

      I have read your note several times and am trying to understand the academic situation. Am I understanding correctly that the low grades have mainly been in math? If so, I can definitely empathize. I only needed one course in College Algebra at the undergrad level and the only way I made it through was by hiring a high school student to come to my house twice a week (I was an older student, too). Had I needed a higher level math, I would have been sunk. My brain struggles to process the information. I realize how difficult it is to learn math when we have such anxiety about it.

      It sounds like you've done everything that I would recommend, but I have a few more tips up my sleeve. First, I hear that you've gotten psychiatric assistance outside of the college, but what about counseling help within your college? This type of assistance is specifically designed to work in tandem with your education, and, if necessary, that person can give you recommendations for campus help that you may not be thinking about.

      An additional observation as someone who also suffers with these issues (but from what you're telling me, this is not a stretch): I am hearing some definite signs of depression. If you can go to a physician and have a clinical diagnosis, then you might be able to register with your campus Access Services department and get even more assistance with your studies than you have already. You deserve this and there is NOTHING wrong with it! Anxiety and depression are absolutely classified as issues that could warrant "disabilities" within your institution. The formal documentation would have no negative bearing on you and could literally only benefit you to get the additional assistance that you need.

      Part 1

    2. Part 2

      I am just not convinced that your entire situation is a failure and a total loss. I know you are feeling that way and I validate that you feel uncomfortable. You've certainly experienced a lot of disappointments. But I refuse to believe that this is where you are meant to stay and that your dreams of doing what you want are completely dashed. I would not let one adviser be your determiner of that, unless there is a concrete reason why. If there is an academic problem, courses can be re-taken. If the issue is math, then, like I said, I might talk to a couple of veterinarians--maybe recent grads--and see what they say. If you need a ton of math for this degree and there is no way around that, and that is why the adviser is saying you can't get into the program, then why would wildlife biology be a fitting alternative? Something isn't adding up for me. It seems like that would also would require math?

      Regarding finding a female mentor, I am certain that either the counseling center or an academic adviser can lead you in this direction easily. Heck, even just start chatting with some profs. They usually know others' backgrounds. A female prof or two who has struggled would be happy to mentor you! I was a first-gen student and I struggled through college as a non-trad student, though I ultimately did well. If you were on my campus, there would be no doubt that I would be happy to give you encouragement. You can find others like me, I'm sure.

      Your age is hardly an issue. There are folks in their 50s who start Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s and think nothing of it. Fifty-one is not old and many people return to school in this juncture, particularly in our economy. This makes me wonder, once again, if you are in a university or a CC. If you are in a CC, are you going during the day? If you are, you probably aren't seeing all the students like yourself who are transitioning.

      Finally, let me give you a reality from the other side of all this: Others in your classes are probably not "just getting it," like you think. I just finished teaching three classes. One of my night classes struggled profoundly... and this was a public speaking class, not math. They had a tough time with outlining and proper citations. We had to go over it time and time again. In a few cases, even the students who worked really hard still didn't end up with the outcomes that they wanted from a grade perspective.

      My two interpersonal classes had a major paper at the end of our term and some students were far better writers than others. The students who did well were the ones who struggled, wrote, wrote and rewrote. In most cases, these students earned the grades they wanted, but I know they went through quite a bit to get there.

      I can just tell you that students never fully know what other students go through. Only faculty know the full behind-the-scenes of grades. There were a few students who, if you were to look at them in class, you would think they were total A-students, only to find out that they missed a bunch of work (I was shocked, too) and that's not what they ended up with.

      Comparison is HARD in college and it can make you feel really low. Please try to focus on building your team of people who can support you: Counseling on campus, some help for depression so you can possibly get on board with Access/Disability Services (for even more academic help), a couple of good mentors, some outside industry professionals, and some new advisers of other veterinary programs.

      I'll be interested to hear further news. Feel free to e-mail at any time: chattyprof@gmail.com and visit my other site ellenbremen.com.

      My best to you and I hope this advice is helpful.

  22. Just failed my last class of a 5 year engineering program!! Just moved out of the continent and was ready to start my master's degree next month.
    I just got my overall average and I am 1.5% away from a passing grade. The professor is not sensitive to my situation. This is a nightmare ! I released my apartment, closed my accounts and was ready to move on.
    How can this happen to me ?! I planned it all and was expecting to pass that class, apparently I mixed up a couple things in the final exam without realizing it...
    Any advice ?


    1. Hi, John,

      Just a quick FYI... my blog has moved to http://ellenbremen.com. Same Chatty Professor advice, just different URL, but this site is still updated with links and you probably found it by Google search of your topic.

      On to your issue: So, yes, there are some things that you can do, but you'll need to move fast! First a question: How was the grade distribution set up so the final was able to tank your grade and cause you to fail? It seems worrisome to me that a final was worth so much that it damaged your entire GPA for the class. Was your other work struggling before this? I would absolutely discuss the entire distribution of points with your prof and call this to his/her attention. I am not saying it will change the situation, but ordinarily, a final exam should not be worth so much that it takes down the rest of the term's work, unless that work was already suffering to a great degree.

      Another thing you can try is to ask the prof what the average was for the final in the rest of the class. If the average was below a 70%, meaning that everyone else did poorly, then there could have been something wrong with the way that test was taught or something wrong with the test, itself. The prof may not divulge this information, but, again, it is something to look into.

      I would contact the prof and be very direct about your situation. Tell the prof that you need to meet with him/her to review the final grade and your grades, overall, to ensure accuracy because of the personal impact of this outcome. Something to think about, though...

      You are supposed to start a Master's program: I assume that program is contingent on you fully graduating... not on GPA? Make sure that this outcome will not impact that situation. If you cannot resolve this issue, you may be able to start the lower-level Master's classes anyway as a non-admitted student and pick up this singular class again at that university. The next school might be able to make that a contingency upon your admission for just one term--a provisional admission.

      I wish you all the best in this situation. I would contact that professor via phone or e-mail immediately. If you can't get a hold of him/her, then contact his/her department/division chair, who likely can.


  23. Awesome! I am a college student who, yes tried, and failed two classes. I have always been an all A's and B's student, but once college hit, I guess that changed! Thank you for posting this. Really helped out, especially mentally. I was pretty scared, especially dealing with the parents..

    1. Patrick, I am so sorry for the huge delay. This site isn't updated anymore, but the blog is still alive and has moved to ellenbremen.com. I am glad to help at any time if I can be of assistance! Ellen

  24. This is my sophomore year at Rutgers and i have a low 1.5 GPA i have been struggling with the college scene, family financial issues and other problems in my life that arent necessarily that much of a burden that i could have done better. I have a serious procrastination problem and i failed 2 classes this semester. I am now going into my spring semester and I want to turn my life around but i was just wondering if there is a way to bring my GPA up to a 3.2 before my senior year if i get A's and B's.

    1. Anonymous,
      This site isn't updated anymore, but my blog is still alive and well at ellenbremen.com. I am so sorry for the long delay.

      It sounds like you totally know what the problem is and procrastination is at least an easy issue to fix. If you can work earlier and recruit some trusted profs, friends, and family to help you stay accountable, I know you can do it. I had a student who admitted that procrastination was a problem and I had Student check in with me on a different schedule. We knew we had to break the pattern with some intensity before it would work. I bet you can find people who will do that for you.

      Regarding the GPA, depending on the number of classes you have left, try to do the calculations and see how high you can go. Literally write out all the classes you have to go and put some grade projections on them. Then you'll have concrete information to draw from.

      My best to you and let me know if I can help further.


  25. I failed 5 of my classes as a sophmore... what do i do. i dont want to drop out and i feel like i turned my life around can i still get higher than a 3.0 my senior year?

    1. Anonymous,

      Your question is very similar to the person above, so I would essentially say the same thing to you: First, figure out why those failures happened and deal with that issue. It may mean you going to the counseling center to talk things out and see where the problem lies.

      After that, recruit profs, family and friends to help you with the issue or keep you accountable to work on it. If you aren't using all the resources at your college i.e., tutoring center, library, etc., then you'll need to commit to doing that.

      At that point, you'll need to write out the classes you have left and try to make some grade projections. That will tell you what you need to know regarding your grade goal.

      I'm glad to help further--visit me on the updated site ellenbremen.com.

      My best to you!


  26. Hey,
    So I'm possibly on the verge of failing my first math class, and let me tell you it's a blow to my ego. I used to struggle in math in high school but have excelled in college, and that's my major now, and the first upper level math class, it was basically and introduction to abstract math, I'm almost certain I'm going to fail or get a D (which isn't an acceptable grade for my major). I've been pretty down about it for a couple weeks, the semester isn't over, and I'm going to talk to my prof tomorrow to find out what my options are, but I did sign up to retake the class this fall, just in case. I didn't slack off this semester by any means, my mistake was biting off more than I could chew. I signed up for Differential Equations, Proofs (the class I'm on the verge of failing if I'm not already), General Physics II, and Gen. Physics Lab II. I had spoken to an adviser prior to registration last semester, they were familiar with me as a student, and said that I could do it but it would be tough. It's a very tough lessen learned. But I'm going to swallow my pride and figure out how to recover form this. But when you said that you had failed a class and went on to have a successful career made me feel a lot better about my situation. I'm the type of student that isn't happy unless I get an A. Few times I'll accept B's, and rarely do I accept C's. But failing is part of life I suppose. How are you ever going to grown if you don't fall down and couple times and learn to pick yourself back up right?


  27. Hi, Kirsten,

    I apologize for the delay. My blog has moved to ellenbremen.com, but comments on this blog still come through to me, though not right away.

    It sounds like you are doing everything you possibly can about the math class. Let me tell you, when I was in school, math was my worst subject. I had to hire a teenage whiz kid tutor to come to the house every day just to get me through the most basic algebra. Fortunately, my major did not require a lot of math, but it was enough.

    Hearing your schedule, I question why an advisor would endorse all of those classes at once, even with the caveat that it will be tough. They are all rigorous--not that an English class isn't--but some diversity of topics can give your brain a chance to breathe. It sounds like you desperately need that, but any of us would :-).

    I am glad you are going to talk to the prof and hopefully that person will help you figure out the next steps. I agree that if math is your major, an A or B would be ideal, but a C won't be a disaster in one math class. I would be up front with the prof and say, "I am a math major and striving to do as well as I can in this class. Here is where I think I went wrong. Do you have other suggestions for me as I move forward?"

    If you've been doing well in the other math classes, then it sounds like this was a funky occurrence. If the issue continues with other math classes--let's hope it won't--then I would definitely talk to more profs in the math department about your major. I am not saying you have to rethink it, but there might be other things to consider in tandem with your career goal.

    Again, it sounds like you are taking all the right steps and you'll plan your schedule next time in a way that is more comfortable for you. I would love to hear about your progress and would be glad to help again! E-mail me at chattyprof@gmail.com if I can be of service.

    Take care and my best to you!


  28. Ellen,

    I'm a student in undergrad, struggling with depression. I've failed (and retaken in some cases) several courses over the past few semesters because of it. I've begun regular visits to the counseling center on campus and have finally found the drive (and perhaps courage) to commit to changing my academic performance. I am still struggling, and most days I find it hard to accomplish almost anything. Reading your post, your empathy toward the situation and your sensitivity to its treatment became apparent. I was so touched by it, that when I read the sentence about an "F" not defining the student, I teared up a bit. Though I strive to effectively communicate myself in these matters, that's sentiment that I've been rarely extended, by parents or professors.

    Thank you.

    1. Hello, Rayne,

      I'm sorry for the delay. This blog has moved to ellenbremen.com, but I still get notifications when there are comments.

      I want to applaud you for taking the steps that you are to a) take care of the depression; and b) improve your academic performance. I have had struggles with depression/anxiety, myself, so I truly empathize with you.

      I appreciated your kind words about the blog. I definitely feel that grades don't define us--they are a measurement in a moment of time.

      I am thrilled that you're going to the counseling center. I'd love it if you'd get a letter of accommodation from your physician and also go to your Disability/Access Services department. "Disability" on a college campus is a very, very wide term. By registering with this department, you would be afforded more advocacy and assistance. Why not take advantage of that?

      I wish you all the best. Please e-mail at chattyprof@gmail.com if I can help at any time.


  29. hi chattyprof
    you know what I failed my major subject. I really dont know why? I used to blame myself. I expect a high grade nor not a failing, cuz as what i can see I almost perfect all of my assignments, quizzes, and even attendance.I'm wondering was my major exam very loW,that it cause my grade to fail? unfortunately i didnt saw my MAjor exam result, cuz my prof ddnt show us then. She dont even showed us our gRADES every grading. and what happened was she only showed us The final grade (FAILED). :( WE cant do nothing. and my worst problem was my family's expetations, because they trust me and proud when it comes to (study). im so ashamed :(
    by the way CHATTYPROF i wouLd LIKE to thank you for all of this, in this situation of mine, i made realize that its NOT the end,its just a test for me and life is not all about PASS! IT gives me courage THANK YOU once again and GOD BLESS.

    1. Hello,

      (This blog had moved to ellenbremen.com... just FYI :-).

      I am really sorry to hear that you are going through these struggles. One thing that you note is not being able to see your grades throughout the term. This is a big problem and the minute you see it happening in a course, it's time to make an appointment with that professor. You have to let that person know that grades need to be seen throughout the term. They should never be a surprise at the end!

      If you feel that your F isn't justified because you did not see it until the end of the term, then you could possibly file a grade appeal.

      Regarding your family, I would be up front with them and say, "I thought I was doing well in this class, but I must have made some mistakes. My grades weren't available to me throughout the term, but when I saw my final grade, I failed. I now know that I need to check my grades several times throughout the term, and if they aren't available or something isn't right, I need to meet with my professor immediately."

      Your family may be disappointed about the outcome, as you are, but if you have an actionable plan, hopefully they will see that you want to change this situation for the future.

      I wish you well. Feel free to let me know if I can be helpful at another time.

  30. This is a three year old post but I'm glad I read it. I just found out that I received an F in my general chemistry class (which is particularly embarrassing because I am a biology major). I believe i still will be able to keep my financial aid, though for the last few hours I wasn't sure. Regardless, this was a huge blow to me considering that this was only my second semester and already very rough (three Cs and two Bs). However I have recognized that this was a result of my lack of effort, probably a result of my hate for the subject. Regardless, reading this entry has helped me realize that this is not the end of the world and that it really is a lesson that I can take something out of. Thank you for your help, and hopefully I will get an A out of it when I take the class again in the fall.

    Best wishes,


    1. Hi, Jack,

      Thank you so much for your note. My blog has moved to ellenbremen.com, just FYI.

      It sounds like you have a very good handle on what happened. I hated a subject, Environmental Science, because the professor lectured for three hours at a time from a legal pad (I blogged about this) and I didn't do well either. I can relate to this feeling of being really frustrated and then that feeling backfiring on your grade. I've been there.

      The situation is recoverable, though, and at least your financial aid is not threatened. If you are retaking this class, go see the prof and discuss what you feel went wrong. Then, I would make a lot of deals with yourself for your deliverables/outcomes for the new class--as in "rewards" for every time you do something that is an improvement over the last time.

      The other way to look at this is that you have a total leg up on the subject. There are tremendous benefits to that.

      Let me know if I can be helpful and take care,

  31. Hello, I hope you can advise me. In the fall semester of last year I had to drop out of college due to a serious Illness. I then got on medicine and my health greatly improved.I was placed on Academic probation for this last spring semester, I completed the spring semester with a 3.50 GPA.(A) But now my FIN AID has been terminated due to a overall grade average of less than 2.0 for both semesters.
    I just filed a appeal with the finaid office at school and I submitted Drs. documents on my Diagnosis with my appeal. This is my first appeal ever.
    I tried very hard last semester and My grades show the proof of it.
    My professor said he would put a word in for me.
    What do you think the chances are of getting my FINAID reinstated? Thanks, Donnny

    1. Hello, Donny,

      My blog has moved to ellenbremen.com, just FYI :-).

      First, congratulations on turning your situation around so vastly! Bravo!

      Unfortunately, I know little about financial aid and their requirements, but I have a thought:

      Can you request to purge the fall semester when you dropped out and have those records stricken from the transcript? This is called Academic Renewal (may be called something different at your school) and a student can typically only do it once. The only downside is that if there was a course you wanted to keep, you can't pick and choose. The whole term has to go.

      It sounds like with the medical documentation and support from your professor, combined with your very high GPA, I would think the appeal will go. Also, I'm surprised the Academic Probation did not include financial aid because, otherwise, what was the point of them funding you to come back for this past semester? If a student fails out one full term and then makes a sparkling comeback (as you did), there is no way those grades are going to average out much higher in just one term.

      I would love to hear the outcome on this and I'll be rooting for you!

  32. Hi, my name is Kasey and I have been dealing with my failure this last semester. It wasn't just one class, but multiple. You see, I could blame it on a number of factors. My life has not been filled with one dull moment since my birth. Through it all I kept my eye on college, but right before I began my college career the process of going to trial for a number of reasons began. I have been trying so hard to deal with my... issues... and I've run out of steam. I don't have parents to disappoint, but my college mentor will be disappointed. I can't do it right now. My emotional health has declined. Four years I haven't dealt with my... life. Counseling only helps so much. Listen, I could feel sorry for myself or I could try something different for now. I took all the prerequisites for a medical degree and then I changed my major to elementary education and failed miserably. What I'm asking you is that do you believe it is possible to erase the last semester? I will ask my college advisor, but I would like an encouraging opinion.

    1. Hello,

      I am sorry to hear about your struggles, but know that you are not alone. There are countless students going through all sorts of myriad issues, and navigating similar territory. My short answer is that you can erase an entire term. Colleges may call this different things, but it's usually "academic renewal." You can purge an entire term from your transcript; the caveat is that you can't pick and choose to keep one class. I believe it's a purge of the entire term.

      You mentioned that you don't have parental support, but you have a college mentor and you have a counselor. What about other support members on the campus? Do you have a counselor also on campus? (This is often free) Do you have a trusted professor or two who you could solicit on your "team"? Can you lessen your college load and maybe take one class or two--selectively chosen for stress level--and do great at those to boost your confidence? It sounds like whatever team you have outside of college, you'd also benefit from a team of support in college. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks who can serve in that role. Start with your college mentor and have that person help you align others. From that point, if your goal is to be in college, take a step back and take just a class or two that you would enjoy. Get your confidence back up, and then you can make other decisions from there.

      I wish you all the best.