Classes will be starting shortly, and this is the time when new students typically get some advice for their future studies. If you search around the web, you’ll find lots of blogs, books, forums, and pages with suggestions for how to succeed in university and engineering programs. Rather than add one more, I think I’ll provide the following list for students who want to fail out and toss away the $10,000 (or more) it cost in tuition and living expenses to attend for a term. These suggestions are based on many years of observation as an academic advisor dealing with failed-out students, so they’re guaranteed to work! They are somewhat specific to Waterloo Engineering, but I bet that many will work for other programs too.
First, why would someone want to fail out? I’m not sure, but my hypothesis is that there is a handful of students that choose this path (perhaps sub-consciously?), since every year there are a few that discover and follow the suggestions I have listed below. So to make it easier for that select group of students, here’s a list of ways to ensure failure. Sometimes, all it takes is just one of the suggestions, but for a better chance at failure it is good to follow several in parallel. (Hint: for those who don’t want to fail, it would be a good idea to review this list and avoid the suggestions!)
- Do not go to lectures or tutorials, just try to learn it all on your own. Those professors are just boring anyways, and you certainly don’t want to be exposed to new concepts or new ways of looking at old concepts. It’s much better to try to read all the textbooks yourself, but never quite get around to it.
- Assume that you already know it all. The first few weeks of first year university are a lot of review from high school, so it’s safe to assume that you will never be taught anything new, ever.
- Assume that you’re at the top of the class and can easily handle everything. You probably were top of class in high school, and surely it will continue in university. (You’ll need to ignore the fact that everyone in the class was a top student in high school, and statistically there is now a 50% chance that you’re actually below average in this new group.)
- Do not do any assignments. Those are just a waste of your time, and too much effort anyways. You certainly don’t want to get any practice with the material and internalize it.
- Commute several hours every day. Engineering is a heavy program, with lots of class time and homework, so if you can waste several hours a day in a tiring commute that will help. (Note, this suggestion alone is not guaranteed to result in failure, but when combined with some others it certainly helps.)
- Spend as many nights and weekends as you can at a job or family business. Similar to item 5 above, it will help make it difficult to succeed if combined with other suggestions. This also works if you substitute video games or “partying” for the job. It’s also good if you can avoid sleeping at night so you’re tired during the day, and therefore more likely to follow suggestion #1.
- Do not look at any assignments or projects until the night before they are due. If you look at them farther in advance, you might be tempted to ask questions or seek help. You might also realize that it can’t be completed in that short a time period. But then again, if you follow item #4 it won’t really matter.
- Assume that you can learn it all just before the final exam. This one is really good, and virtually assures failure. Bright high school students sometimes do this, but in university the volume and depth of material make it very unlikely overall, so it’s usually a successful path to failure.
- Do not use any university resources to help yourself. Avoid all those extra-help sessions, tutorials, the tutor centre, study skills workshops, academic counselling, etc. If you’re hoping to fail out, these will just be a waste of time and might make you question your path.
- Assume that you can do extra work or credit recovery if your final course grade is too low. Some high schools have such programs, so if your grade is low you get a chance to boost it. This is for those who aren’t quite committed to failure. Perhaps you’re doing some of the suggestions above, but want to hedge your bets if you change your mind towards the end of term. However, we don’t have such programs. When the term is over, the grade you get stays on your transcript forever! So, no fence-sitting. You need to commit, either to failure or success.
If you think I’ve missed any good suggestions for failure, please submit them in the comments section!
The suggestions above are based on self-reported common practices of failed students who are requesting re-admission to Waterloo Engineering.
Note: there are also students who struggle due to personal or medical reasons, and this posting is not directed towards them. If this is the case, please seek help as soon as possible from your advisor and we’ll do our best to accommodate your circumstances.