Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
Coach Your Student to Communicate with ProfessorsAmy Baldwin, Ed.D.
Here is a hard truth for parents: Students can and will fail classes when they are in college.
Failing a class sometimes indicates a problem; sometimes it indicates a string of bad luck. Students fail because they make poor choices or because they are not prepared for the amount or level of work needed to succeed. As painful as it may be for your student — and you — failing a course isn't a disaster, especially if your student learns how to deal with challenges more effectively.
What should you do if your student finds themselves with an F on their transcript? Ask the following five questions to find out what happened and what your student can do to prevent another failing grade.
A key first step is to dig in deep to discover what contributed to the failure. A student who has “no idea how that happened” is a student who lacks the self-awareness necessary to make significant changes. If they truly do not know how it was possible they earned an F, then they need to speak to the professor as soon as possible to discover the reason.
Many areas of your student’s college experience can take a hit when they fail a course; for example, in addition to academic consequences there may also be financial and psychological impacts. Encourage your student to talk to the financial aid office, their academic advisor, and/or a mental health counselor to talk through the effect a failing course can have on financial aid, a degree plan, and their wellbeing.
This is an important question because your student will need to alter habits and behaviors to prevent failing a future course. Do they need to get organized? Do they need to go to tutoring? Do they need to learn how to ask for help even before they think they need it? Guide your student in creating a plan for making these changes.
Take a realistic look. If you and your student think the fix can be quick, then identifying the change that needs to be made and making it will be a snap. However, if you conclude that it will take more time and effort to, for instance, develop solid time management skills, then your student should consider working with an advisor or success coach.
Most students will vow never to fail another class, but there may be steps they need to take beyond just making changes to their study routine and in the classroom. Do they need to find out how to keep a scholarship or how to get back on track to complete their degree? Encourage them to use their campus resources to ensure that there are no other unintended consequences.
Sometimes a student will insist that there is nothing wrong or act as if they had no idea that they were failing. Here are a few tips if you’re concerned your student isn’t owning the failure:
Failing a course is not the end of the world and shouldn’t be treated as such. It can indicate a need to change a habit, behavior, or mindset. Helping your student navigate the stress and disappointment will set them up to weather future challenges with more self-awareness and self-reliance.