Failing College? 5 Tips for Conquering Academic Failure

Failing College? 5 Tips to Overcome Academic Failure

Don’t let failing college hurt your relationships, decrease your self-worth, or cause you to develop more serious mental health issues like depression & anxiety.  Here are five ways you can conquer academic failure.

Whether you’re going to college for the first time or are in your final semesters trying to power through to graduation, life in the academic world can be challenging. On top of the pressure to perform academically, many students struggle with living away from home. Being financially independent, making new friends, or finding direction in your life can all be overwhelming new challenges. It’s little wonder that 1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression.

1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression.

If left unchecked, these common challenges can lead to academic failure. A damaged GPA can hurt your chances of getting scholarships or being accepted to certain programs of study. It will also, most likely, increase the time it takes for you to earn a degree and find work opportunities related to your field of study.

More importantly, the stress that comes with living under such intense pressure can damage your relationships with friends and family, cause you to develop depression or anxiety, and can even lead to more serious mental health issues like suicidal ideation.

The good news is, there are a lot of resources available on and off campus to help students through this difficult time. College failure can be a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be your only option.

Whether you are considering staying in school, taking a semester or two off, or dropping out entirely, here are a few helpful tips that will help you find success.

Learn What Resources Are Available to You

Before you make any big decisions, it would be smart to pay a visit to your school’s counseling center. While many students have likely worked through the college admissions process and discussed grades with a high school counselor, few seem to realize that most college campuses offer similar resources.

School counselors will be able to help you understand the effects your grades will have on your future academic career and what you can do to mitigate the damage lower grades might cause to your transcript. In some cases, you may be able to retake a class or have your grades based on completion instead of a letter grade.

Your school counselor will know what kind of mental health resources your school provides. Thanks to mental health awareness increasing all over the country, many colleges and universities employ school psychologists to help their students work through whatever challenges they may be facing.

Reach Out to Family & Trusted Friends For Help

Unfortunately, many parents and close family members are simply unaware when students are facing difficult circumstances related to college. Even if you’re still living at home, communication usually decreases due to busy schedules and a student’s desire to be independent.

Your parents may ask you about what you’re learning and other exciting activities you are participating in, but without any indications of your internal struggles, they may not think to ask about how you’re doing mentally and emotionally.

Although asking for help may feel embarrassing or shameful it’s completely normal. Your parents or other trusted friends who have been through the college experience before will usually be eager to offer helpful advice or just to lend a listening ear.

They have probably experienced the fear of failure themselves and will be able to relate to how you’re feeling. Spending quality time with people who love you can also help you notice ways in which you are succeeding and help you recognize your value.

Parents are usually willing and eager to help their children but might not always know how. Feel free to look through our other blog posts and additional family resources for more ideas on how to talk with your parents.

Work on Mastering the Little Things

When your life is full of seemingly insurmountable tasks, it can be helpful to distinguish between the things you can and cannot control. For example, you may not be able to control what grade a professor will give for the essay you submitted, but you can control how you’ll react to whatever feedback you receive.

Examples of other things you’ll most likely be able to control are:

  • When you go to sleep and other routines you keep
  • The quality and amount of food you eat
  • How much time you spend on social media and video games
  • How much money you spend on eating out vs. cooking at home
  • Avoiding harmful substances like drugs and alcohol
  • Positive ways you spend your free time (extra-curricular activities, volunteering in the community, participating in clubs, working on a hobby, etc.)
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Sometimes, students living on their own for the first time struggle with common life skills like cooking, keeping a tidy dorm, or caring for a car. Growing up with the limitless distractions of the information age also means students spend less time honing their social skills too.

Taking time to learn these little skills from family or friends can also help you exercise more control over your life. There are even many helpful resources available online to help you learn these basic life skills. Being able to take good care of yourself, your relationships, and your belongings brings a sense of pride that will boost your self-esteem and give you the confidence to face bigger challenges.

Diversify Your Field of Study

Many students struggle to get through general education courses. Because they might have failed math or scored poorly on a psychology test they might feel like school just isn’t for them. General courses are beneficial in expanding your world view and helping you develop grit, but they’re not the most important classes you’ll take.

Higher-level courses that are focused on specific subjects often have smaller class sizes and can be easier to get excited about academically. Even if you’ve failed a general class in your first few semesters, realize that a lower grade now won’t have as great of an effect on your academic standing further on in your university career. Pushing through the generals now and succeeding in higher-level classes later will help you get back into good standing.

You might find more success in a field of study you hadn’t previously considered. Many students have hopes of becoming doctors, engineers, or businessmen and -women; fields that traditionally favor STEM subjects like math and science.

Try taking a liberal arts class in the humanities, communications, or fine arts programs at your school. Even if a career in these fields doesn’t interest you, these classes generally teach creativity, communication, critical thinking, and many more marketable skills that many high-profile employers are after. Most campuses also have career resource centers that can help you identify your interests and strengths and recommend courses that you will find enjoyable.

If you’re already enrolled in a specific major, consider talking to a counselor from your program about ways to fulfill general requirements that are more interesting to you. They have most likely worked with many students just like you before and know ways to help you find success.

Many programs offer courses that will fulfill general and major requirements. Not only will these classes help you feel more interested and successful, but they will also get you closer to graduation faster than your regular general classes might.

Many college campuses regularly host major fairs & career fairs. If you haven’t quite decided on a major, consider attending one of these events. This can be a great place to meet counselors, students, and successful people in various fields of study that interest you and can help you discover programs you might not have been aware of previously.

You could also try talking to other students about their majors to find something that interests you more. Try joining a club where you’ll find students with common interests or backgrounds to learn about new opportunities.

Consider Taking Time Off

Graduating is no little task. Recent figures show 6-year graduation rates at 58%. That means that, even after 6 years at a 4-year college or university, at least 42% of students still don’t have a college degree. While the idea of finishing college as soon as possible can be appealing (especially to your wallet), sometimes, overwhelmed students just need to take a deep breath and step back from all of the stressors that college life brings.

Even after 6 years at a 4-year college or university, at least 42% of students still don't have a college degree.

Consider lightening your course load and take one or two classes instead of a full-time schedule. Talk to your school counselors about internship opportunities that might help you save or earn extra money while still receiving course credit. There’s no shame in taking a little extra time to graduate if it means expanding your horizons and gaining diverse experiences.

If you do decide to take time off, it’s also a good idea to give your break an expiration date. Decide beforehand how long you’ll defer your study–a semester or two would be preferable in most cases. It’s normal for people (your family especially) to worry about whether or not you’ll ever go back to school. If you have a concrete plan, you shouldn’t have to worry about what they may think or say.

Make sure you spend your time doing something productive like getting a job, traveling, volunteering, or some other activity that inspires you. You can still take a valuable break without giving up entirely.

Don’t be afraid to try a class at a local community college or a vocational school. While a degree from any number of elite colleges can open many doors of opportunity, there are many successful people who have taken other paths. Depending on your personal situation, you might find better opportunities where you didn’t think to look before.

Enrolling in a Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program like Aspiro could also be an excellent way to get your life back on track. Well-trained guides and therapists can help you in many of the same ways school counselors and trusted family members can as mentioned above. A few big advantages they have, however, is the ability and resources to help you navigate your struggles with research-based expertise and the time to focus individually on your growth and progress. 

Spending time in the wilderness can help you change bad habits by shaking up your routines and helping you disconnect from addictive technology and substances. Participants at Aspiro also develop new hobbies and forge new friendships that can last a lifetime.

Additionally, Aspiro participants set goals and learn strategies that help will help you develop the self-efficacy & resilience needed to face the challenges in everyday life. Perhaps the best part of wilderness adventure therapy is that you’ll receive all of these benefits while also participating in fun adventure activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and more.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful and wish you well in your academic career. Contact our admissions team at [email protected] or by calling 801-349-2740 to learn more about how we help young adults and how you can become an Aspiro participant.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

  • Josh Watson, LCSW
    Josh Watson, LCSW
    CMO

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Josh Watson, LCSW
CMO

Also specializes in: crisis de-escalation / anxiety resolution / frustration tolerance / verbal de-escalation / CBT/DBT / interpersonal relationships/leadership development

Josh has been working with adolescents, young adults, and their families since 2001. As an original member of the Aspiro Leadership Team, Josh has fulfilled several roles at Aspiro including Clinical Wilderness Therapist, Clinical Supervision, Admissions Director, Strategic Development, and currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer. He is passionate about carrying out the mission of Aspiro and creating the best possible experience for our clients. When Josh is not at work he enjoys traveling, cooking, outdoor adventure (of course!), golf, and spending time doing just about anything with his wife and two daughters.