Can You Take a College Class if You Failed the Prerequisite?

Can You Take a College Class if You Failed the Prerequisite?

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So you made it to university, but maybe it hasn’t been as smooth sailing as you had hoped. Adulthood is tough, and prerequisite courses don’t always make higher learning any easier to accomplish. So what do you do if you fail a prerequisite?   

If you fail a prerequisite, you won’t be permitted to take the course that lists that prerequisite as required and will have to consult with your academic advisor to recover your standing and graduate on time. Collegiate institutions require students to pass a prerequisite with a C- or higher. 

The rest of this article will explain a few topics related to this question in great detail, including the consequences of failing a prerequisite exam, how to override collegiate prerequisites, and whether or not you can take a collegiate course and a prerequisite simultaneously.

Consequences of Failing a Prerequisite

College isn’t easy. It takes dedication, drive, and tenacity to finish and finish on time. Everyone has bumps on the road to success, though, and it’s complicated if you’re a young adult out of your parents’ house and in control of yourself for the first time in your life.

Sometimes life gets in the way of our goals, especially when it comes to school and education. Whether you dropped the ball because the non-academic side of college was too much fun to handle, or you were dealing with extenuating circumstances, it can be challenging to figure out how to turn things around after failing a course – particularly a prerequisite.

A prerequisite is something you must officially accomplish or do before earning or getting something else. In college, a prerequisite course is an extra class you have to take before going towards your chosen degree path.

Prerequisites demonstrate your competency in various topics from general education classes in core subjects like math, science, and English and specialized courses like 18th-century literature or advanced biology.  

Suppose you’re coming into college from high school. In that case, a lot of your specialized degree courses will have prerequisite courses listed to ensure that you can handle the workload of the degree class, can keep up with the material, and have the background knowledge to build on.

Suppose you’re going back to college as an adult after a prolonged educational absence. In that case, prerequisites help your institution determine whether or not there are gaps in your learning that need to be filled before taking a more advanced course.  

So, if you fail a prerequisite, what will happen?    

Lower GPA and Academic Standing

The first thing to consider when you fail a prerequisite course is how it’ll affect your GPA and overall academic standing.

Generally, an F or failing grade on your transcript at all is a definite blow to your overall academic standing and can cause your GPA to drop.

A GPA is your grade point average, and most institutions use a 4.0 scale to measure it. GPAs are calculated by assigning numerical values to each letter grade earned and dividing that number by the total amount of courses in which you’re enrolled. 

So, for example, an A is worth 4 points, while an F is worth 0 points. Even if you earn 0 points due to a failing grade, that course is still used to calculate the overall GPA, which can plummet if you earn an F.

A low GPA isn’t necessarily the end all be all, though, so don’t stress out just yet. For example, suppose you plan on entering the workforce immediately after earning a Bachelor’s or Associate’s degree. 

In that case, a lower GPA doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from a high-paying job, but it can pose an extra hurdle for you to overcome at a job interview.

However, suppose you’re planning to further your academic standing and pursue a graduate degree or a career in an educational, highly technical, or competitive field. In that case, a low GPA could lower your chances of landing the job you want, the school you wish to attend, and your academic reputation.  

Extended Time and More Retakes

In addition to a low GPA, failing a prerequisite also means that you could be extending your time in college and open the door for more prerequisite courses or retaking degree-specific classes. 

Failing collegiate courses or prerequisites is like getting to the game over point in a video game. So much of your progress is lost, you have to go back to level 1, and all of your past work was basically for nothing.

Additionally, you can’t move onto higher-level courses if you don’t pass the prerequisites for taking them. For example, if you must take six additional literature courses to earn your English degree, but they all hinge on you passing English 101 and 102 first, you won’t be able to move onto any of those courses if you fail the two prerequisites.

Possible Expulsion and Academic Probation

If you attend a more distinguished school with more rigorous standards, like an ivy league or private institution, the minimum requirements for remaining in good academic standing can be more challenging to manage than they are at most state schools.  

For example, some institutions require that undergraduate students maintain a GPA of at least 2.5 and complete at least 12 units of new coursework. At Stanford University, for instance, students must possess at least a 2.0 GPA or higher and earn at least 12 units of coursework.

So, if you fail a prerequisite, not only can it bring down your GPA, prolong your time in school, and limit your future choices, it can also lead to any of the following: 

  • Academic probation
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal from school

College is nothing like public K-12 education, where teachers and staff actively do everything in their power to pass students to the next grade level with minimal repercussions to student GPA and other achievements.

In college, not only are you paying to attend, but the standards are higher, which can be a rude awakening for some. Some institutions of higher learning are stricter than others, though.  

Some schools view failing grades and low GPAs as a sign that you can’t handle the academic workload or are unfit for that particular degree path.

Check with your academic advisor to understand your school’s policies and procedures about their grounds for dismissal, suspension, and probation.     

Less Financial Aid, or Forced Reimbursement

A failed prerequisite can also determine how much financial aid you qualify for depending on your financial situation.

Each student loan and grant that you earn typically has its own stipulations for giving you money. Often, grants and loans require that you maintain a full course load and a favorable academic standing.

Poor academic performance could result in less financial aid or, in some cases depending on the severity of the situation, paying back any monies you were given to attend school. To learn more about the impact of financial aid due to failing a course or prerequisite, check with your school’s financial aid office.  

Can You Salvage Your Academic Standing After Failing a Prerequisite?

Okay, I know, this article has seemed like a lot of doom and gloom, but, come on, failing is a big deal. However, even though failing a college course or prerequisite isn’t ideal and definitely has consequences, it’s not the end of the world.

After failing a college course or prerequisite, you can salvage your academic standing by consulting with your academic advisor and crafting a success plan moving forward. This includes identifying why you failed and devising a plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  

If you fail your prerequisite or college course, the first thing to do is consider why you failed. Were you distracted? Did you not understand the work? Were you lazy? Were you balancing too many things? Extenuating circumstances?

If you fail because of events that are in your control, for example, you stayed up too late partying with your friends most nights instead of studying, then you know that going forward, you need to buckle down and focus.

However, suppose you failed because you were in a car accident and had extenuating circumstances relating to your health. In that case, you may want to discuss options for waiving academic requirements with your academic advisor.

Sometimes, some institutions understand extenuating circumstances out of your control and can work with you to catch you up with minimal consequences. But, it depends on your school and its policies. 

How To Override a Prerequisite

If you’re looking to get out of taking a prerequisite, sometimes there are options to override these courses.

Suppose you have taken a similar course before. In that case, you’re confident in your abilities to excel without the prerequisite, or you have other reasons there are ways to override a prerequisite requirement.

You have to contact the department chair or instructor who oversees the college course you want to take that lists a prerequisite. Sometimes, the department head will waive the prerequisite requirement if you can show documented proof of completing a similar course in the past or be willing to take an exam to test out of that prerequisite.  

Depending on your unique situation, there may be a way around the prerequisite, but you have to talk to your academic advisor and the department chair for the course you want to take.  


To sum up, college is tough, but it’s easier with proper planning, dedication, and commitment. So, if you’re preparing to go back to school or just entering college from high school, remember to take the time to understand your school’s unique academic policies and procedures.

Also, develop a good rapport with your academic advisor; they’re the best ones to help you navigate issues with prerequisites, graduation, and more.