The Cost of Failing a Class

Mar 8, 2016 by

Everyone knows that failing a class isn’t a good thing, but it’s rare that a dollar amount or direct consequence is tied to that act – especially if it’s only one hiccup in an otherwise good record.

The truth is failing even one class can have long lasting ramifications including a major monetary hit, potential lost grants and scholarships and a slipping GPA that can keep students out of top schools.

The Cost of a Class

College tuition is becoming increasingly expensive, which means the average cost of a college credit earned at a four-year school is also increasing. According to College Board, the average 2015-2016 cost of tuition and fees (not including room and board) for a four-year school ranged from $9,410 for an in-state public school to $32,405 for a private non-profit institute.

While the “fees” portion of that cost covers expenses like maintaining a campus and paying for auxiliary support and departments, the “tuition” is intended to pay for the classes and credits a student is expected to take.

Discounting the fact that fees are also included in these averages, the average cost of a single credit (assuming an average of 30 credits per year) at a range of schools comes out to:

  • $314/credit for public, in-state schools
  • $796/credit for public, out-of-state schools
  • $1080/credit for private colleges

Each course and college is different, but the average college class is worth three credits. This makes the total cost of a single college class run, on average:

  • $942 for public, in-state schools
  • $2388 for public, out-of-state schools
  • $3240 for private colleges

Though some schools can run well into $5,000 per course, according to Business Insider.

Even traditional online courses can be expensive. An editor at U.S. News & World Report found that online courses can cost about $300-$400 per credit, meaning a typical three credit course ultimately costs $900-$1,200 in many cases (before books, supplies and the occasional registration fee).

It’s also worth noting that some majors are more expensive than others. While some majors may require more classes or credit hours, or an accompanying minor, at certain colleges the tuition itself is different depending on a student’s elected major.

If you need to take more than the traditional four years, your tuition and fees not only extend, but so does room and board if you opt to continue living on campus.

Does GPA Matter

High school students know all too well that a good GPA can affect the college they get into. In a recent survey of what factors more heavily influence college admission, just over half of schools rank overall grades in all courses (which corresponds strongly to GPA) as being of “considerable importance.” Even more important is performance in college prep courses (any course a college may evaluate when considering an application), which is considerably important to 81.5% of admission teams. The more selective and competitive the colleges students are apply to, the more GPA matters.

High school seniors need to be mindful of their GPAs and grades even after they’ve been accepted to a college. If their grades slip or they fail a class the university can rescind the offer of acceptance, leaving the student with nowhere to come next Fall.

GPA also matters for students in college. While whether GPA plays a role in post-graduation hiring varies from employer to employer, maintaining a good GPA during college is important. Many universities will expel students whose GPA falls below a certain standard and some programs/majors may be more rigorous with even tougher minimum GPA requirements. A low GPA can also effect a college athlete’s eligibility to play. A low GPA, caused by poor grades or failed classes, can even cost students their government Pell grants and school-based scholarships.

For students planning to attend graduate school, college GPA plays the same role in admission selection as with the undergraduate process. Many top graduate schools publish the average GPA of their freshman class, which is fairly high for the more competitive programs.

  • Harvard Medical: 3.8
  • Harvard Business: 3.66
  • Yale Law: 3.93
  • Stanford Business: 3.75

Do’s and Don’ts

There are a few things students can do to help avoid failing a course or simply to keep the cost of classes down. The best way to avoid high credit fees in college is to test out of courses when possible. The growing popularity of high school Advanced Placement (AP) classes allows many students to study and test out of college-level courses before ever stepping foot on a university campus.

The AP classes themselves don’t cost anything in high school and the AP test currently sits at $92 per exam. That’s a savings of anywhere from $850 to $3148 if students receive a high enough test score to opt out of the equivalent college course. To make sure the $92 doesn’t go to waste (and save the college credit fees) students should invest time and resources in extra AP test study aids and sessions when needed.

When struggling with a class many students are tempted to drop the course in an attempt to save their GPA, particularly if the course is an elective. However, dropping a class can lead to a negative impact as much as a lower GPA can, particularly for high schoolers. College acceptance is contingent upon high school seniors completing the entire course load they reported to the university when applying. Dropping a class gives the university grounds to retract the acceptance offer. In college, unless the student replaces the dropped course with a different class they may not have enough credits for the semester or to keep them on track to graduate on time.

Whether concerned about passing an AP exam or struggling with a class, seeking extra help is important to achieving success and a passing grade. Students should visit study halls or supplement with online educational videos from to ensure they don’t suffer the consequences of a dropped or failed course or a bad grade that will damage their GPA. The sheer cost of failing should be enough to convince any student to buckle down and commit to their studies.

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