I'm Afraid I'm Failing

Did you get the "I'm afraid I'm failing" phone call from your student? Since adjusting to college is a different experience for each student, there is the likelihood that some students will give their parents the last-minute call or text that they might be failing a majority of their classes. Before you panic, remind yourself that your student has overcome many challenges in order to get to college and they can overcome this one too.


Male student with his head in his hands trying to study.

First, consider the possibility that your student may not actually be failing. Sometimes a student panics and when they don’t know how they are actually doing in a class they assume the worst. They may have been used to making higher grades on tests in high school and be shocked by some lower grades on tests or papers now. They may be taking an all-or-nothing view of their performance. This means that they may look at themselves as either being successful with really high grades or being a failure if their grades are lower than they usually expect from themselves. As Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Encourage your student to research the facts before declaring that they are failing all of their classes. Encourage them to talk to faculty about their concerns and to get a more clear idea about whether they can bring up each course grade. Sometimes students are surprised to learn they are doing better than they expected. They are also sometimes surprised when they learn of the opportunities they still have to bring up a grade.


Remind yourself and your student that failure is not permanent. Even if your student’s prediction is correct and they feel unsuccessful in their grades for a semester, this does not mean that the pattern has to continue. It may simply mean that they need to change how they study in order to meet the demands of their current course load. The failure may be just the bump your student needed to realize they can’t rely on those same strategies for studying that they used to pass all of those classes in high school. It may be just the wake-up call your student needed to realize that their college education really matters to them. If they learn from the struggle, it may give them the motivation to set limits with other demands in life and to make the most of the rest of their college education.

Encourage your student to connect with resources. If your student is not sure whether or not they will pass their classes for the semester, encourage them to consult with their faculty advisor. An advisor can help your student evaluate whether options such as applying for an incomplete or withdrawing from a course are appropriate for their situation. Encourage your student to seek help from campus support offices such as the campus The UWF Writing Lab, the MathStat Lab, or the Academic Center for Excellence in order to get back on track with their grades. Recommend that your student talk with a counselor at UWF Counseling & Psychological Services. A counselor can help your student identify the barriers that have been interfering with their success academically. Your student can then work with the counselor to determine how they can work around those barriers or change them.

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