There have always been people who've tried this, with various intentions and various results. Sometimes this just results in burnout, and usually just makes you unbearable to be around. But this is one that seems to be gaining in popularity, driven in some cases by economic concerns.
First, remember that the University defines a "full-time student" as someone taking 12 credit-hours or more. In reality, a "full load" that will put you on track for graduation in 12 quarters is 15-17 credit hours, depending on your major, your college, etc. A rule of thumb that is generally not passed along clearly enough is that a good college course should require two hours of work for every hour in class (if it doesn't, you're settling for less that you could be getting); in other words, 17 credit-hours of courses gives you a 51-hour work week, which is pretty busy by most people's standards, but hardly impossible. And even if you're taking a full load, the reality of the situation is you usually have at least one course that requires less work than this (hint: this ain't it). But most of us need to work some to pay the bills, and usually a college student can handle a 15-20 hour work week, as long as he or she recognizes that time management is a skill that must be learned and cultivated.
Anything above these numbers you should think of as "over-commitment". But it has probably crossed your mind that you could save a lot of dough by taking extra classes since you don't have pay extra once you're taking 12 hours, and you'll graduate sooner. And if you work 30 or 40 hours a week now, you can live a little better, and maybe support an otherwise homeless car. Over-commitment is an easy thing to get started.
Over-commitment is a simple strategy for failing, though it can actually be physically exhausting. In other words, you can get nothing for a lot of effort. The worst possible outcome is that you don't fail, and manage to muck through four years at the University scraping by with a 2.00 GPA in an unchallenging major; the only job offer you'll get after graduating will be for the same job you have now ("you want fries with that?").
DON'T COME TO LECTURES
This is a strategy that seems to be gaining in popularity; my unofficial estimate is that there are about 50% more people doing this than were doing it 15 years ago. People who admit to it (at least to the professor, who is pretty clueless) usually claim it as part of the "over-commitment" strategy (see above); they're scheduled to do too many things, they have to prioritize, and their GEC courses are the balls that hit the floor in their juggling act.
Now you'd think that this wouldn't be a good strategy for failure, especially since the professor is naive enough to believe that students will still come to class after he's posted his lecture outlines and lecture notes on a website. But the good news is that students who don't attend class do markedly worse than those who don't. Recall that I occasionally take attendance for extra credit. I also know which students don't pick up their exam results the first day they're back, so I've got a pretty good idea of who attends regularly and who doesn't. I've examined the final grades of these two groups, and I've found that the distributions look similar, except that the grade distribution for those who don't come to class is centered one full grade lower than the center of the grade distribution for those who do come to class. I have to admit, though, I can't tell cause and effect here: do good students go to class, or do students who go to class get better grades?
So while this isn't a sure-fire strategy for failing, you can be pretty sure it'll cost you one full letter grade. If you're already having trouble in other classes or you're on academic probation, maybe that'll be enough.
MISS THE FIRST EXAM
This one's not obvious at all, but it turns out that it seems to work pretty well. If you look at the grade predictor section of the "Grading Scale" page, you'll see a table that shows final grade as a function of the score on the first exam. The bottom row tells the story: no one who missed the first exam completed the course with an "A" - in fact, the most common result was that people who missed the first exam failed the course.
Why is this such a strong indicator of eventual failure? I can't be sure, my suspicion is that students who miss the first exam fall into one of the following categories:
The more general "miss-an-exam" strategy is not an especially effective
one for failing (because we do throw out one exam, after all), but missing
two exams is a spectacularly good way to fail. In the Table below,
I show the distribution of final grades as a function of number of exams
missed. The mean GPA for students who took all the exams is about 2.50; for
those who missed one exam, about 1.86. But for those who missed two or more
exams, the mean GPA was a phenomenal 0.54!
|Number Exams Missed|
|0||1||2 or more|
MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
While one of the oldest strategies in the world, it remains one of my personal favorites, and a favorite of many others: professors like to share examples of this strategy with one another over beers. You can screw up in a big-time fashion by believing that there are "rules" that in fact really don't exist. Some real-life examples:
Making your own rules is a good strategy for failure because it leaves your conscience pretty clear ("everyone else is wrong, and if there isn't a rule that helps me, there ought to be"). The downside is that if you get too deeply into this kind of thinking, you could wind up living in a one-room cabin in Idaho writing manifestos. This could raise havoc with your social life.
We'll add other good strategies for failure here as they come to our attention. And keep in mind what a service you are rendering to your fellow students: every student who flunks out of the University has contributed his or her tuition dollars to affordable education for others without taking much for themselves. On behalf of all of us who attended public universities, Thanks!
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