Becoming a Course Survivor

Ever had one of those courses? One that, in hindsight, was a big mistake and now You’re stuck with it? One that makes you want to scream every time you open the textbook? One that you just want to be over?

I recently finished a course that seemed more like an endurance test than an educational opportunity. I won’t name the course, because I’m sure it was me, not the course. It just wasn’t the right course for me, or at least it wasn’t the right time to take it.

Now that I’ve survived the course from hell and spent some time reflecting on the experience, I’ve come up with a few strategies students can employ for course survival:

Withdraw. You can withdraw from a course any time up to the contract end date, provided you have not yet attempted the final exam. Importantly, if you withdraw from a course within 30 days of the contract start date, you get most of your tuition back (minus a $150 processing fee) and the course will not appear on your transcript. If you withdraw later, you get nothing back, and your transcript will show a “W” for Withdrawal. For more info, check “How do I withdraw from a course?” at Ask AU, or check the Undergraduate Calendar.

Contact your tutor. Your tutor is a resource and he or she may have valuable advice. You’re probably not the first student to struggle with the course. For my course from hell, I was lucky to have a sympathetic tutor who provided me with advice and encouragement that helped me persevere.

Talk to other students. It’s not easy contacting other students when you study online, but It’s worth the effort. Check on myAU or The Landing to see if your course has a message board. Although the AUSU Forums were discontinued recently, you can still reach out to students on the unofficial Athabasca University Facebook page. I was lucky to find a student who had a similar experience (with a different course) and we talked on the phone about how she got through it.

Talk to anyone who will listen to you. Discussing your situation with someone not directly involved can help you gain perspective. Somebody might have some insight that you hadn’t considered. I spoke to my husband, my mother, my writing group, and anyone else who had the misfortune to ask me, “How are you?” Opinions varied on whether I should bail out of the course or stick with it, but everyone had good suggestions, many of which I was able to use.

Persevere. In order to complete the course, you just have to grit your teeth and do it. I detested reading the textbook so much I had to set a timer for ten-minute increments just to force myself to keep at it. I set daily goals and rewarded myself for reaching them. Major milestones, like completing an essay or the exam, meant major rewards.

Extend. If you have no hope of completing the course by the contract end date, you can purchase a two-month extension. If an extra two months is what it will take to get you through the course, It’s worth the $165 fee. You can purchase up to three extensions for a course; see more information at “Can I request an extension?” at Ask AU, or check the Undergraduate Calendar.

Take it easy on yourself. don’t let one miserable experience colour your academic career. Focus on how good it will feel to have the course behind you. I also had to learn to lower my standards and hand in essays that were just “good enough” in order to keep making progress.

Learn from your mistakes. After surviving your course from hell, reflect back and think of what you might have done differently. For myself, I wish I had recognized an unwise course decision early on when I could have withdrawn, gotten a refund, and redirected my time and money elsewhere. I also wish I’d been disciplined enough to finish the course in six months, instead of prolonging the agony with an extension.

A sour course experience can overwhelm you and make you want to chuck the whole post-secondary degree pursuit. It can sap your energy and suck up time that would be better used elsewhere?almost anywhere, really. A course that makes you miserable while you work on it probably makes you miserable the rest of the time too.

Sooner or later, most students will encounter at least one tough course that seems tedious and unrewarding. Even if you can’t avoid or withdraw from the course, you can employ survival strategies that help you to get through it and to become a course survivor.

Have you survived your own course from hell? Tell us about it, at

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.