From Zero to Hero: How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University

Ever had to delay a semester? Retake a whole year? Defer your graduation altogether? It’s no walk in the park but here are 7 ways you can bounce back!

Updated 05 Mar 2019

How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - Feature-Image

Ever had to delay a semester? Retake a whole year? Defer your graduation altogether?

This can be a trying time in your university life but we’re giving you 7 steps on how to feel better, do better and see that the tassel is worth the hassle after all!

#1. Acknowledge your mistakes

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 1 Acknowledge your mistakes

The first step to bouncing back from failing a semester is to come to terms with the problem at hand.

Dissect the problem without rose-coloured lenses — was your failure a direct result of your own mistakes, such as skipping classes and failing to study? Or was it caused by circumstances beyond your control, such as falling ill during your exam or having a family emergency that caused you to be away for most of the semester?

If it was due to your own wrongdoing, it’s important to acknowledge your hand in the matter and to be open to constructive criticism which can help you rectify your bad habits and take steps towards improving yourself.

#2. Tell your parents

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 2 Tell your parents

For some of us, this may be the hardest part of the entire ordeal. You might be afraid to tell your parents that you failed a semester and cripple them with disappointment, but it’s best to be honest with them as soon as possible.

This is something that does not only affect you, but your parents too. If they’re paying for your education, your parents will need to make the necessary financial preparations so that you can repeat the semester.

Additionally, telling them the truth helps establish their trust in you (instead of letting them find out on their own), while you’ll need their support and advice in this trying time. It’s wrong to mislead them that you’re on track to graduate on time.

So, own up to your shortcomings and tell your parents how you plan to get back on track.

You could say, "Mum and dad, I failed Taxation. I didn’t put in enough effort throughout the semester and had to cram everything at the last minute. This time, I’ll work on staying consistent by completing my weekly tutorials and actually preparing for my midterm.”

Your parents may react in anger at first but eventually, they may lend the emotional support you need and might even help you formulate a plan for progress. 

#3. Get your friends on board

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 3 Get your friends on board

Our friends are our closest confidantes and looping them in is just as important as telling our parents. Let your friends know when you are struggling as they can form a crucial support system when you are down and out.

So, whether you’re repeating a class, a semester or the year, get them on board and ask them to help you proofread your essays, go through past year papers with you, lend you their notes and share their tips on how to approach your lecturers for help or guidance.


 You’ll find that when you open up, you’ll encounter many students who are in the same boat as you. Form a study group, share your progress and hold each other accountable. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t have to suffer alone!

#4. Manage your emotions

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 4 Manage your emotions

At a stressful time like this, your mental health is of critical importance. You will likely be afflicted with a myriad of emotions, such as embarrassment for having to join a junior class or severe disappointment for not being able to graduate with the rest of your cohort.

Get in touch with your college or university counsellor and talk to them about what you’re going through. Your counsellors maintain a strict code of confidentiality and you don’t have to feel worried about judgement from your friends or family.

It’s important that you speak about your feelings to help you cope. Internalising your emotions can lead to something more sinister, such as depression. If left untreated, it can endanger your life.

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#5. Do damage control

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 5 Do damage control

Once you’ve identified your mistakes and informed your parents, it’s time to put your game plan into action!

Upon starting your new semester, consider scheduling discussions with your classmates to keep you on track with your coursework. If you previously struggled with procrastination, now’s the time to push yourself to finish your weekly handouts and prioritise important extracurriculars if you had too much on your plate last semester.

Study early and analyse how many modules you have to go through and how long it will take you to complete them. If you are repeating subjects, remember not to cram too many classes into one semester and cause history to repeat itself. Your degree is not a race to the finish line.

It’s also a good idea to schedule an appointment with your academic advisor if you have been assigned one to help you structure your game plan according to your course requirements.

#6. Redefine the ‘F’ word

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 6 Redefine the ‘F’ word

We’re talking about failure, of course!

We often view failure as a spectacular “crash and burn” and because of that, we fear failure so much that it can sometimes stop us from doing things that move us forward.

The truth is, some form of failure in life is inevitable and failure can be a catalyst for accomplishments. Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Before creating the worldwide phenomenon Harry Potter, she was a struggling, single mother battling depression. But instead of treating her rock-bottom failure as a foregone conclusion, she used it as a solid foundation to rebuild her life.

So, start by redefining “failure” as an opportunity for you to grow. Develop a growth mindset, and learn to see how failing a semester can provide you with a platform to improve your grades and reinforce what you’ve learnt last semester.

#7. Persevere for progress

From Zero to Hero - How to Bounce Back After Failing a Semester in University - 7 Persevere for progress

The most important advice we can give you is to never give up! 

College or university is hard enough as it is, but the added pressure of repeating a year might pile on self-doubt, urging you to give up. However, once you’ve formulated a plan of action, believe that you can get through this as long as you put your mind to it. 

When times are tough, it helps to visualise your goals to keep you motivated. Imagine your parents’ proud smiles on your graduation day or that dream job you know is within your reach once you’ve completed your education.

Keeping the bigger picture in mind helps to remind you that this inconvenience is only temporary, and that your struggle will pay off in the end. You can do this!

If you’re still unconvinced that a silver lining exists behind this stumbling block, J.K Rowling gave her perspective on the benefits of failing during her Harvard Commencement speech in 2008.

Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way… The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. -- J.K Rowling

With that, we say go forth and get that scroll!

Suffered a bad blow in life recently? Here are 5 ways to transform painful failures into a soaring success!

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    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Kamini Senthilathiban

    Self-proclaimed pun-meister 6000. Kant stop, won't stop.