Talk Your Professor Out of Failing You

By Sean | May 22, 2013

Look, we’ve all been there. A surge of panic washes over us when we realize that maybe, just maybe, we goofed-off a little too much and we are at risk of failing a class. What should you do? 

  1. Talk to your professor as early as possible. This is, and always should be, your first step. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable and yes, you might be embarrassed to admit that you’ve made a mistake. But just think about how embarrassed you’re going to be later on in life when you have to keep explaining that grade over and over and over again. Talking to your professor doesn’t sound so bad when you think about things that way, does it?
  2. Now this isn’t a guarantee. All of us have tough teachers who don’t want to hear any excuses. However, the sooner you get to them and the more honest you are about why you’re failing, the more likely it will be that they’ll be willing to help. After all, it’s not their job to make you fail, it’s their job to make sure you learn the material they’re teaching. But even the most sympathetic and helpful professor isn’t going to be too interested in helping you if you lie to them and/or wait until the last minute.
  3. The outcome of the conversation will vary depending on the instructor and the situation, but often times it might doing extra credit, getting tutoring, or maybe even the opportunity to re-do a particularly bad assignment. If your problems are related to something external that’s out of your control—an illness in the family, an injury, etc.—your professor might suggest that you take an incomplete for the semester and make up the work later. Just remember: if you sign a contract for an incomplete, you’re going to be held to it and if you don’t do the work, you’re going to end up with an F.
  4. If you can’t get any relief from your professor and feel that you should still deserve a chance, escalate things to the next level. Definitely don’t do this unless you’ve exhausted all avenues with your professor and don’t even bother if you ended up where you have because you partied too much or just never showed up to class. However, if it’s truly a dispute about grading or you feel that the instructor is being unfair to you, take it to the next level by talking to the chairperson of the department or program where the class is located. Make sure you have all your documentation and let the person know that you’ve taken things as far as you can with your instructor. State your case without hysterics and without bad-mouthing the professor (no personal attacks!) and see how things go. You might be surprised at how willing they are to work with you. But beware: this is really the “nuclear option” and there’s no going back with your professor once you’ve gone over their head.

What do you think, will these techniques work on your professor? Have you done something else that’s worked for you?