Advice for Awkward People

Hey Ruth,
So, the inevitable happened. I’m officially pretty sure that I’m going to fail a class, and I have no clue what to do about it. It isn’t one of my core degree classes, but I was planning on using it as one of the electives that I need to graduate and I don’t want to have to re-take it.

Theoretically, I could still do reasonably well — but I’d need to get 100 percent on all the projects and exams left. I’m not even going to pretend that’s possible. If it was I wouldn’t be in this position in the first place!

I’m obviously bummed because this was absolutely nowhere in my plan, but I’m also kind of... ashamed? I was a great student all through high school and I didn’t come to Carnegie Mellon expecting it to be easy, but I still thought I’d be smart enough to pass all my classes. What do I even do about this?

F*** All, I’m Losing It, Not Good

Since this won’t be published until the drop date, let’s assume that you haven’t and won’t be able to drop the class. Maybe you’re a senior with no time to re-take it, maybe you thought everything was going well until you bombed a big test too close to properly consider dropping, or maybe you can’t drop without unexpectedly going part-time. The good news is that there are definitely still options available to you.

I’m also going to presume that you’ve been going to as many lectures and recitations as you can and have been doing all the work. If you haven’t... maybe consider that as a reason for why you aren’t doing that well? If for some reason you are incapable of engaging with the class on the level expected of you, go talk to the Office of Disability Resources as soon as you can. They might not be able to do much for you this late in the semester, but you’ve likely got at least one semester left, so it’d be a good idea to familiarize yourself.

Now that you’ve done all that — go talk to your professor. There is literally no downside. (Well, okay, you’ll have to work up the courage to do so, but I believe in you.) The worst thing that happens is that they can’t change anything and you’re in the same situation as before. The best thing that happens is that they offer you an extra credit assignment to bump you back up into passing territory. You won’t know until you give it a try. At the same time, you should probably have a chat with your academic advisor or so the two of you can talk through your options. As great as my advice is, counseling students through this kind of thing is their actual job, so they’re likely to be much more useful.

If worst comes to worst and you’re still in and failing this class by the last week of classes you should seriously consider withdrawing. I know you don’t want to re-take the class, but if you fail you’re going to have to anyways, and a “W” looks a lot better on a transcript than a straight up fail. There’s a reason the withdraw option exists, and it’s because people use it. Taking a “W” is not a mark of shame.

Speaking of — there’s nothing shameful about not doing well in a class. I know it’s hard to believe, and I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent okay with failing myself, but it doesn’t make you a disgrace. Sometimes life gets in the way, or you have difficulty following lecture, or you simply don’t get the material. It doesn’t make you any less worthwhile. You’re still a person who contributes to the world. Who cares if you had a rough patch or made a mistake? So has everyone else.

You can do this,