Don't fail your courses if you don't need to

If you’ve been struggling with any of your courses, there are options to help you out of taking a F. And there's no shame in using them.

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We've probably all been in that position where we sign up for a class filled with ambition, only to have our marks slip as the semester progresses and the workload becomes overwhelming. Before the course puts a permanent F-shaped dent in your GPA, know that there are things you can do to improve your situation. Here are your options for when you’re doing badly in a course.


Talk to your instructor

Your instructors know when you’re struggling, and almost all of them want to help you. Office hours are a great way to maintain open communication about any issues you have with the course material or with balancing everything during the semester. Take the time to ask your prof questions and discuss what your options are if you've failed certain assignments. They'll let you know what you need to do to pass the course, and they can provide useful resources.


Hire a tutor

If you just need additional support in the class, consider opting for a tutor. You can sign up for a tutor through Studying for Success. in Halifax or the Student Sucess Centre in Truro. They'll match you with someone who will connect with you virtually to help you learn the course material. Having that extra support can go a long way in making sure you're able to get through the course. If hiring a tutor is out of your budget, consider gathering some classmates to create a virtual study group.


Drop the course

Though it may feel like a waste of work, you have the option of dropping the course entirely. If you withdraw from the course before the "Drop the course with a "W" deadline (check the important dates page, but it generally comes later in the term), your failing grade will be replaced with a “W” (withdrew after the deadline) on your transcript. Your GPA will not be affected by a negative grade, which could impact your scholarships and grad school applications. It is not advisable to have many Ws on your transcript, but one won’t make a big difference. If you choose to drop the course, you'ill have to make up the credit. It’s best to set up an appointment with an academic advisor to go over your different options. (You also generally have until late in the first month of the term to drop a course without a W, which means there's no record of it on your transcript, but you'll still need to make up the credit.)

One caveat is that you should make sure that dropping your course won’t impact your scholarships, student visa, or financial situation. Many scholarships require you to take a minimum number of courses, so reach out to the Registrar’s Office about your scholarship’s rules. Your international student visa can also be affected if you reduce your course load. In that case, you'll want to contact an International Centre advisor about how dropping a course could impact you. Lastly, you may be taking a financial hit from dropping a course. The last date for a full refund on a course is pretty early in the term, and the percentage you get back lowers as the term progresses. For more information on how much you'll be refunded, check out the refund schedule on the Student Account website.


Change your grade to PASS/ILL

Maybe your course is a prerequisite for a class next term. Or perhaps dropping it would impact your scholarships, graduation date, financial situation, or student visa. If you're unable to drop the course from your schedule for external reasons, consider changing your grade to PASS or ILL. This option is available for the 2020–21 academic year, and can provide some relief when you have a poor grade in a required course. A passing grade will be converted to the GPA-neutral PASS, which is a good choice if you did OK in a course but not as well as you could have done. If you didn't pass your course, the grade can be converted to the GPA-neutral ILL. You won’t get credit for the course, but you also won’t have a failing grade on your transcript. You can only make these changes after final grades are posted. If you end up deciding that the PASS/ILL option is right for you, you can apply for a grade change through DalOnline. The final deadline for grade conversion in the fall 2020 term is February 1, 2021.

It's important to note that not all faculties are allowing the PASS/ILL option. Also, taking one of those options may affect your ability to take future courses: for instance, if you take a course that's a pre-requisite for another one that requires you get a B, and you receive a C+ before taking a PASS, you won't be allowed to register for the new course. Also, your original grade may affect you being accepted to grad programs you may be interested in. Get all the info about the PASS/ILL option here.


The best thing to do before making any rash decisions is to talk through it with an advisor. You can find out who to talk to here. This year has been challenging for everyone, so no matter which option you choose, please remember to be kind to yourself. Failing a course is not a personal reflection on who you are. Many people have been in situations where they had to drop a course, myself included. It's actually a strength to be able to recognize when you need extra help and when you need to step back. You're not alone!