The Hidden Costs Of An ‘F’

F Grade

“My parents are going to kill me!”

That’s the first thing most students think when they get a failing grade. They can already mimic the lecture word-for-work. “It’s time to grow up,” they imagine. “I’m tired of footing the bills. You’re going to have to buckle down!”

Of course, surviving this speech is the easy part according to a new article from, an online instruction resource in areas ranging from mathematics to advanced placement. In reality, earning an F – or any grade that requires students to repeat a course – can produce several unexpected costs and consequences.


Let’s start with actual costs. According to a new study by CollegeBoard, the average cost per credit ranges from $314 for public in-state schools to $1080 for private schools. Assuming that most courses require three credits, students can expect to pay $942 at best and up to $3,240 for the privilege of re-taking a course.

Of course, that is the average. At Columbia University, for example, the cost per credit is $1,436 for a four credit courses according to CollegeCalc, meaning a student would pay an additional $5,744. As points out, costs may vary depending on major.


And that’s best case scenario. Many schools, however, don’t allow students to pay by credit hour. As a result, they would be on the hook for tuition for another semester. How much is that? Take an average state school. An in-state resident would pay, on average, $9,410 a year, which breaks down to $4,705 a semester – nearly five times the cost of the class failed. And that doesn’t even factor in room and board – another $5,069 a semester. In other words, just one F can cost students up to an additional $10,000. Think of an F as the academic equivalent to paying for a DUI.

The number is even worse if students hail from out-of-state. Then, they’re looking at $17,015 just for failing one class. If they’re attending private school, they should be ready to break the bank. The cost of one semester there, between tuition, housing, and cost of living, is nearly $22,000.

Oh – and don’t expect any scholarships, government grants, or financial aid to cover that semester, either. In other words, students will bear the full brunt of college tuition if they fall behind. That means they’re just digging themselves a deeper hole after graduation (not counting the additional interest accruing on their student loans).

What’s more, notes that students risk expulsion when they fail a class at many universities, particularly when their overall GPA fails to meet a certain threshold.


In this scenario, failing a class comes with an insidious hidden cost. Forget the ding on their GPA and the humiliation of repeating a class. An F leaves a pretty noticeable red flag on your transcript – something that can truly hinder students’ options with prospective employers (or graduate school).

Speaking of the job market, let’s not forget opportunity costs. For example, NACE (National Association of College and Employers) found that 2015 business graduates were expected to earn mean starting salaries ranging from $47,466 (human resources) to $55,843 (management information systems). Divide that in half and students are looking at a loss of $23,500-$27,000 – and that’s already on top of an extra semester of tuition and room and board. At minimum, an in-state public school student stands to lose at least $33,000 by failing a class. At a private program, they could be out $50,000 or more. In real terms, that’s like losing six months to a year of salary…before taxes.

In short, getting an F isn’t a rite of a passage that be easily fixed over a summer. Instead, it can detour a career and cost students tens-of-thousands of additional dollars they didn’t anticipate. So when parents sermonize that “failure is not an option” after a bad grade, it’s not hyperbole. It’s financial certitude.