What Happens If You Fail a Class in Community College?

If you are struggling to perform at a high level in your courses, read this guide for some tips on what you can do if you think you run the risk of failing a course!
Failing a class at a community college can be a very frustrating and humbling experience. But it’s not the end of the world. Find out how to recover and minimize the damage from failing a class.
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Sometimes life gets in the way of academic studies and you might find yourself struggling to perform at a high-level in your courses. If you’ve failed a class at a community college, it’s not the end of the world.

In this article, we’ll talk about what happens if you fail a class at a community college and give you some tips on what you can do if you think you run the risk of failing a course.

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What happens if you fail a class in community college?

If you fail a class at a community college your GPA will suffer and it could cause you to receive an academic warning or even be put on academic probation, depending on your circumstances.

Failing a class at a community college could also put a blemish on your official transcript that colleges or employers may view in a negative light down the road. 

However, you can often recover by re-taking the class and/or elevating your grades in other courses or by providing a sufficient explanation as to why you came up short in your class.

Keep reading below for more details on how to handle failing a class!

Dropping or withdrawing from a course

One action that you can take if you believe you are going to fail a course is to simply drop or withdraw from the course.

There are different options that colleges might offer when dropping courses.

Dropping a course

Typically, there is an early deadline for dropping a course without any type of penalty. 

For example, your transcript will not reflect that you took the course and there will be no permanent record you ever stepped foot inside the classroom.

The idea here is that you get a taste of the course and realize that it’s not for you that semester and you simply drop it before a specific deadline without penalty.

These deadlines approach after only a couple of weeks after the class has begun so you’ll need to stay on top of the drop deadlines if you want to go this route.

Sometimes the deadline might be a specific date on the academic calendar but other times the deadline might be based on a specific date for that particular class. For example, the deadline might be the “tenth day of classes.”

These dates can be tricky for mini-mesters so watch out for those.

Withdrawing from a course

Another option you may have is to simply withdraw from the class. This can be done after the deadline mentioned above but before the late withdrawal deadline.

Usually, this will result in you receiving a “W” on your transcript which stands for withdrawal.

It doesn’t matter if you have an A+ or an F at the time that you withdraw, usually you will get the same W on your transcript.

This should not affect your GPA but it will likely affect your completion rate which is something else that colleges keep track of to make sure you are not dropping too many courses.

Having a W on your transcript will also likely exclude you from being able to receive honors for that semester. So for example you might be excluded from the Dean’s List but just for that semester.

Late withdrawing from a course

There is also something referred to as a “late withdrawal.”

This deadline is typically pretty late in the semester and you are not allowed to withdraw after this date. 

Some colleges do provide exceptions, though. 

Typically, this would be something like an unexpected death in the family or major life changing event. 

In that case you would need to petition the college and if they allow you to withdraw from the course you’ll probably get the same type of “W” on your transcript.

Colleges often impose limits on the number of courses that you can withdraw from and you may have to seek approval from the Dean’s office to process a request although some colleges allow them to be processed automatically.

When it comes to drop limits, you may not be able to drop more than 12 or 18 hours throughout your entire career at the community college. 

So while this can be a helpful option to avoid failing a course, it’s not something that you want to do on a regular basis.

Request an Incomplete

Another lesser known option that you can seek is to request an incomplete. 

These are usually offered under extenuating circumstances and they give the student a chance to complete the course work during the next semester.

​​This is sort of the “secret weapon” to use when struggling in a course but if you have a good relationship with the professor it’s worth trying. 

Stressed Student
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Re-taking a course

If you fail a class at a community college one thing that you should look into is re-taking the course assuming that you need it to obtain your degree or education goal.

If you felt like your performance suffered because the professor never “clicked” with you, consider re-taking the course with another professor if possible. 

If you don’t have the option of choosing another professor, you might even look into taking the class at a different community college since you can take classes at two different community colleges at once.

Pay extra close attention to the reviews for that professor in that course to see if it would be a good fit. 

You might even be able to find tutoring programs that are tailored to that specific course, especially if it is known for being one of the more challenging classes.

Even if you don’t have to take that class again, opting to take it again will provide you with the opportunity to excel in that course. 

Later on, if employers or universities question why you failed that class you can provide them with an explanation and then show them that you re-took the class and did very well.

That will not only show that you have the aptitude to do well in that subject but it will also show employers and universities that you have determination.

However, if you have serious doubts about your ability to pass that course a second time around, then perhaps it is better to just move on and take a different course.

It might be a good idea to lower the amount of credits you take the next semester and to choose classes known to be a little bit easier so that you can help buffer the damage done to your GPA from the failing course.

Your academic standing

Both colleges and universities have certain academic standards that you must meet in order to remain an enrolled student. 

If you fail the course you might jeopardize your academic standing and you should look into the standards that apply to your community college.

A lot of times there are three different degrees of academic standing.

Good standing

Good standing usually means that there is nothing negative going on with your status. 

You are meeting the minimum requirements for the number of classes you should be taking and are performing at a satisfactory level in terms of your GPA and class completion rate.

It’s possible to fail a class at a community college and still remain in overall good standing. It’s also possible to withdraw from one or more courses and still remain in good standing. 

However, keep in mind that sometimes individual departments may require you to carry a certain level of GPA. 

For example, if you were in a nursing program all of the courses related to your nursing degree or certificate might be included in a GPA that is distinct from your overall GPA.

Academic warning

An academic warning is usually equivalent to “strike one.” 

Perhaps you dipped below a 2.0 GPA for a semester or you dropped one too many courses. This could be the consequence of failing classes at a community college. 

However, if you had pretty good grades for your other courses, failing one course may not even put you in academic warning territory.

Anytime you are put on academic warning (or as talk about below academic probation), you might get a “hold” put on your account. 

This hold could prevent you from signing up for future classes until you meet certain requirements such as meeting with a career advisor or counselor.

Colleges like to help you out whenever you’re struggling and in some cases they might be able to assist you with getting back on track.

So don’t get offended if your account is on hold and instead use it as an opportunity to get you back up to speed academically.

Academic probation

Academic probation is usually more serious than an academic warning because it means that you are continuing a pattern of unsatisfactory performance. 

For example, perhaps you were put on academic warning for two semesters in a row. 

At this point, you will have to get serious about your academic performance to avoid getting kicked out of the community college. 

It’s best to meet with a counselor and come up with a plan to boost your GPA and to make changes in your personal life that will help you focus more on your studies.

You likely won’t be put on academic probation unless you fail several courses. 

It’s also possible to get put on academic probation if you are not taking the minimum number of courses.

Financial aid

Anytime you’re dealing with academic warnings, academic probation, and failing grades your financial aid could be impacted. 

For example, you may no longer qualify for certain scholarships. 

It’s a good idea to always talk with a counselor to make sure that you will not lose out on any financial aid if you end up failing a course at a community college.

Dealing with employers

If you’re worried about what employers will think about failing a class then consider the information below.

If you’ve only failed one course and for the most part you had good grades throughout your time at community college, that one blemish should not matter that much.

When going in for interviews you should probably have a rehearsed explanation as to why you failed that particular course. 

For example, if you experienced a loss in your family or suffered some type of illness during that semester that is very relevant. 

In a short and concise manner, you could explain the circumstances around your personal life and then finish it up with a quick overview of what you learned in the process that made you a better person/student. 

This will show the employer that you take responsibility for your shortcomings, and even better, that you learn from them.

You should avoid two things, though.

First, don’t feel the need to bring up the failed course unless you are asked about it. A lot of employers may not care and some may not even notice that you had a failing grade or two.

Second, don’t get too long-winded with your explanation. Be straight to the point, own up to any deficiencies you had, and again stress what you have learned throughout the process.

If the course that you failed at the community college is not related to the type of employment you’re seeking you have less to worry about. 

However, if the course you failed was a core requirement for the industry you’re heading into, you want to spend more time refining your explanation.

Student at an interview with an employer
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Dealing with universities

If you’re planning on transferring to a university you often have to submit essays to go along with your application. 

For example, you may submit a personal statement or a diversity statement. 

You could take this opportunity to briefly mention any challenges you faced during your time at community college which may explain why you had a failing course.

Note that if you simply dropped the course because you were failing it, you should not mention this in your essays. 

Of course, if you are asked about a dropped course you should be able to provide a response but typically a dropped course would not cause an employer to ask as many questions as a failed course.

If you happen to have several classes that you dropped, especially during one semester, then that might be something worth addressing proactively.

Final word

Failing a class at a community college can be a very frustrating and humbling experience. 

But it’s something that happens to a lot of people and as long as you are prepared and remain determined to fix your situation, failing a class should not be something you can’t overcome.

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