“Mom and Dad, I got a bad grade in college”

Looking for ideas on how to break the bad news to your parents that your grades this semester are less than stellar? If sitting them down and simply saying “Mom and Dad, I got a bad grade in college” seems a bit too, shall we say, pedestrian, then here are some ways you can break the ‘rents hearts, one F at a time.

Getting a bad grade might not be a big deal to you, but breaking the news to the 'rents might not be so simple.

Getting a bad grade might not be a big deal to you, but breaking the news to the ‘rents might not be so simple.

3 ways to handle the bad news

There are a couple ways to go when you’ve bombed a test or assignment. Jen Thames blogged for collegenews.comYou’ve Made Your Bed: Breaking Bad Grades to Parents” on December 5, 2011, with her three suggestions:

1.  Lie—Yup, if you’ve got the brass ones to pull this off, go for it! Simply look dear ol’ mom and dad in the eye and say, “My roommate is great. My grades are great. The dining hall is terrifying.” One out of three will be true, and even if you aren’t failing math you will know those are still pretty bad odds.

2.  Fudge—Otherwise known as skirting the truth (this one’s for the English majors, feel free to drop some serious adjectives here to distract Mom and Dad). Tell them that your professor is bad about giving back grades, or that you still have some work to turn in or simply that you don’t know what your grade is. They won’t fall for this one for long, but it might buy you enough time for one last blow out with your friends before your parents put down the hammer.

3.  Come clean—No you don’t want to say, “Mom and Dad, I got a bad grade in college,” but telling the truth could be oddly liberating. And let’s face it—they are going to find out eventually. This one is especially recommended for philosophy majors who can somehow spin this into some metaphysical argument that will confuse them.

If you decide that honesty is the best policy, Thames offers a final tip: “The power of the truth is all in the approach. Ask forgiveness and then enlist their help. Most importantly ask your parents for tips about how they made it through hard classes in college. Parents are usually full of suggestions and strategies.”

How to move past a bad grade in college

Once you (and your parents hopefully) have moved on from the shock and awe of your bad grade in college, what can you do to ensure you never have to remember how to break bad news to your parents again? “3 Tips to Overcome a Bad Grade in College” by Laura McMullen posted January 27, 2012, for U.S. News & World Report offers some advice.

First get some perspective. College is harder than high school, and you may need to make some adjustments and work a bit harder. Also you probably need to sit down and talk with your professor. Understanding how your work didn’t cut it is the best way to keeping that bad grade from happening again. Sure it won’t be fun, and in fact it may be downright uncomfortable, but that is your bad grade, and now you have to own it.

You failed a class

But what if your bad grade in college goes beyond one F on a paper? What if it has gone nuclear and you’ve bombed an entire CLASS? When you start to sense things going south for you that is probably the time to lay some groundwork with mom and dad. Something along the line of, “Man, Mom and Dad, advanced basket weaving is really kicking my butt this semester. I sure do hope you won’t be disappointed in me if my baskets are lumpy.”

Callie Dolohanty added some tips in her May 27, 2011, post “How to Break the Bad Grade News to Your Parents” for theblacksheeponline.com. She recommends, “The cardinal rule of breaking this kind of news to the rents is to think on your feet and constantly remain a victim. Remind them of how much you love them, how disappointed you are in yourself, and express a healthy amount of self-loathing.”

Also tears are never a bad idea, and feel free to try the “but I’m already torturing myself, so there’s no need to lay on any additional punishment” route. If that one works for you, you probably don’t need college because you’re already a skilled con artist.

Good luck—you’re going to need it. 

No one wants to fail a test or a course, but it happens. So how did you handle telling the bad news to your parents? Let us know in the comments.

9 replies
  1. misti says:

    Unfortunately I am my own parent in this situation… I’m 50yrs old, and I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up, an Anthropologist. I’ve been in nursing for 30+yrs.Hospice is where I stopped. Having begun in the ER. When I failed interm Algebra, I felt really stupid until I realized, hey I can compute complex med dosages w/life and death circumstances….geez…i laughed ND took it again…got a B ( by 2points) whew…success..@_@
    that’s one of my stories that I am stickin to.

    • Nicole Reinard
      Nicole Reinard says:


      Thank you for sharing your story! It’s so encouraging to see adults taking that bold move to go back to school after many years to do something they’re truly passionate about. Very happy to hear you retook Algebra and did well. It is so important to never give up. You are an inspiration!

  2. Shannen Spiess says:

    I failed a course in college and because I did so well in all of my other classes, my parents didn’t really mind when I told them. They knew it was a mistake that I was going to fix. Failing is a part of life, trust me, I know. Parents understand that and they want to see you succeed whether that means taking a few stumbles getting there.

    • Nicole Reinard
      Nicole Reinard says:

      Thank you for sharing, Shannen! You have provided an important lesson that other readers can follow.

  3. Sara says:

    Is this article a joke? I am sorry to have spent the time reading this. I don’t necessarily care how successful the person who wrote this article is. As a student, where is the academic integrity if we can’t start with our family? You want to teach young adults to bend the truth and to lie to their parents over something stupid like a grade? Way to show us how to be grown ups! I don’t even have a good GPA right now and I’m offended by this.

    • Nicole Reinard
      Nicole Reinard says:

      Hi Sara,

      The intent of this article was to be slightly tongue-in-cheek so we apologize that you were offended by it. The author stated in the article that coming clean with your parents could be liberating as well, despite how scary one might feel letting the truth come out. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Lucas Rasper says:

    Freedom of press …. if you are offended then the writer did his/her job . A feeling was evoked from mere words and YOU are most likely talking about the feeling with at least one other person. So now the writer has all this exposure me, you, those who commented and the people we share this with. I applaud you for taking the time to share what is important to you. A good way to break bad news to parents is to tell them something horrible that you know they fear could happen or something they have specifically warned you about happening,(pregnancy, arrest etc.)then tell them that was just a joke and you are failing but wanted them to keep things in perspective.

  5. Holly Cannon says:

    I’m a Freshman coming out of my first semester with 2 B’s, 2 C+’s and one C-. Im so scared to tell my parents. I wasn’t the best highschool student, but I grew up in college, at least I thought I had. Obviously when you add on depression, home sickness, lonliness, the brand new tasks of going grocery shopping and worrying where my next meal was coming from, I didn’t do so well. I hope they understand it’s my first semester, and that I’m learning.


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