Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?

Your college student has received their midterm grades.  They may be pleased and feeling relieved, or may have some cause for concern.  Now is the time that your student needs to do some serious thinking about how they will approach the second half of the semester.  If all of their grades are good then your student knows that they are on the right track.  If some, or all, of their grades are weak, then it is time to think about a new approach.

Your college student may, or may not, share midterm grades with you.  If your student has some low midterm grades, they may view this as a failure.  You may need to help your student put these grades into perspective and make some decisions about the second half of the semester.

Withdrawing from a college class is not the same thing as dropping a class early in the term.  At most institutions, students have an option in the first few days of the term of dropping a class.  This is important for students who find that they are in the wrong level of a class, or that the class is inappropriate or of no interest to them.  Classes that are dropped at the beginning of the term generally do not show up on the student’s permanent record.  Withdrawing from a class later in the term usually results in a ”W” appearing on the student’s transcript.  The ”W” has no effect on the student’s GPA (Grade Point Average).

Each college has its own deadline for withdrawing from a class.  The deadline may be as early as the third week of the semester or as late as the tenth week of the semester.  If the deadline has not already passed, a student may use their midterm grades as a means of determining whether withdrawing from a class makes sense.  If your student has an option to withdraw from a class, you may need to help them think through this decision.  Here are a few factors to consider.

  • Students need to check the deadline for withdrawing from a course.  If the deadline has passed, it is occasionally possible to petition for a late withdrawal, but the process is often difficult and should only be used for rare exceptions.
  • If your student is doing poorly in a course, they should be realistic about whether or not they will be able to make sufficient changes to be able to pass the course.  Will your student truly be able to turn things around and dramatically change the grade in the few remaining weeks of the semester?
  • Your student, and you, may worry that a ”W” will not look very good on a transcript.  Generally, withdrawing from a class once or twice throughout a college career is not a problem.  The problem occurs when a student withdraws consistently from one or two classes most semesters.  In this situation, potential employers or graduate schools might question the student’s commitment, follow-through, or recognition of their own abilities.
  • Generally, students do not need to provide a reason for withdrawing.
  • Your student might consider withdrawing from a course for several reasons.  Their course load may be too heavy, the class may be too difficult for them at this time, it may be an inappropriate class, they may have been overwhelmed by the transition to college, the instructor’s style of teaching may have been a mismatch, something may have caused them to fall far enough behind that they can’t make up the work.
  • Just stopping attending a class is not withdrawing.  If your student has not filed the appropriate paperwork, they will receive an ”F” in the class.
  • Before your student considers withdrawing from a class, they should meet with their Academic Advisor. The Advisor can help your student think through options.  Perhaps they can still take the course on a pass/fail basis.  Perhaps remaining in the course still makes sense.  Perhaps they can find tutoring help.
  • At some institutions, students need to be passing a course at the time of withdrawal.  Your student should check the college policy carefully.
  • Your student may feel that withdrawing from a class is a sign of failure.  Help them understand that, as one academic advisor puts it, ”W” sometimes stands for ”wisdom”.  Your student may recognize that withdrawing from one class will allow them to put all of their efforts into other classes, keep their GPA strong, and truly shine.
  • If the class is a required class, your student should consider carefully whether they want to withdraw (and take the class at another time) or whether completing the class, even with a lower grade, will make sense.
  • Your student should check college policy carefully about being ”under credits” (less than full time) at this point in the semester.  At some institutions students may fall below the full time load as long as the ”W” appears on the transcript.  However, there are some exceptions — especially for eligibility requirements for athletes or some types of financial aid.  Have your student check policy carefully before making a decision.
  • At some institutions, withdrawal policies are more lenient for first year students.  First year students may have later deadlines or may be allowed to withdraw from additional courses.

The decision to withdraw from a college course should not be made lightly, however it may be the right decision for your student.  Encourage your student to gather all of the information that they need to make an informed choice.  Your student needs to consider the realistic picture in the course as well as the school’s withdrawal policy.  Sometimes, deciding to withdraw from one, or even two, classes may mean that the student can balance responsibilities and complete the semester successfully.  Your student may be looking for you to help them put this option in perspective.

Related Posts:

Helping Your College Student Make Sense of Midterm Grades

What FERPA Means for You and Your College Student

Who Is Advising My College Student About Academic Issues?

Helping Your College Student Find Support on Campus

Why Your College Student Should Talk to Their Instructor If They’re Struggling

Helping Your College Student Be a Better Student: Twelve Questions to Ask

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26 thoughts on “Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?”

  1. Mayday – It sounds as though you were in a tough spot. I don’t know what decision you made about your difficult class, but the important thing now is to find a fresh start. If you stayed in the class and received a lower grade than you hoped for, investigate whether you can retake the class and whether that will help your GPA. If you withdrew, then see the fresh start and retake the class, having learned what you need to do this time around to make things better.

    College is often about mistakes, false starts, and learning from the experiences. It is not unusual for students to struggle in their first semester. Take stock of your experiences and learn what to do differently next semester.

  2. I am a first year student in an english 1A class, I took a teacher that apparently even the counselors tell students not to take (the counselor that spoke with me lasted all of 5 minutes, because, and I quote, “I don’t know much about that major, the book has it all in there, right? Which ones sound best?”, and so I was not fortunate enough to receive this warning before registering for his class), and now I am 4 days away from withdraw deadlines with a solid D. I do not understand a lot of his processes, but I feel it would be stupid of me to leave this class when I’ve only got a few weeks left, but I am also concerned about if I stay in the class, and do not get much better, that it will affect my gpa n all that…but I already do next to nothing yet I feel overwhelmed. I’m not even sure if I’ll get my money back, or how this will make me feel in the long run. I just want to get it over with, but I don’t want to struggle and cry my way through the rest of the semester because my teacher is anal about everything, nor do I want to look ridiculous in withdrawing in the last few weeks of the semester to only take the same class with a different teacher in the next semester. I have tried to meet with him multiple times but as all teachers are, he’s fairly busy. I feel really dumb about this, because I wasn’t even able to keep a job earlier in the year because it was interfering with my academic goals…I get that college is supposed to be a struggle and all that stuff but I’d really rather not be sitting here at my computer nearly crying in frustration because in the same essay I have been accused of plagiarism, my citings after a direct quote are deemed unnecessary and other stupid things.

  3. Yes, that is what I am going to do. I need to get back to full time work and I can do school, one or two courses at a time like you said. At the end of this semester I can at least get my Technical Diploma and sit for my Cisco CCENT exam. Thanks for the good wishes.

  4. Steve – First of all, let me say that I applaud you for your determination to try to complete your degree. A midlife change of direction is always difficult. Have you considered finding the full-time employment that you need and taking only one or two courses at a time? This would take longer, but would mean that you could work at the same time. It might also mean that you could focus more on only one or two courses rather than five and that might help with the work.

    Whatever you decide to do, good luck!

  5. A different story with me. I am a dislocated worker trying to add additional skills to what I have already. I am 57 and lost my job due to workforce reduction. My current training is being paid through grants and this semester 2016 I was taking five courses. I was really having a hard time understanding material in one course and decided to drop it and concentrate on my other classes. I was doing fine in the course, but I hit a road-block with on lab and even working with the instructor and tutor I was not able to get it to work which would have effected labs that would follow. With not too many more years to work, I feel I need to get back to full time employment and just finish my career. Will have to retake the course providing I decide to stay in the program.

  6. I am a freshman in the engineering program at WVU. I withdrew last semester from chemistry and I’m deciding whether or not to this semester with a 55 at midterm. I really put in so much work but when exams come around I just freeze up. I can’t afford a D or an F and I am taking 19 credits. Would it be a good idea to withdraw again and take a community college course in the summer ?

  7. Herb –
    Students “crash and burn” for many different reasons. Your comment does not mention what your daughter thinks or how she feels about her situation. Perhaps you have already talked seriously with her, but finding a solution might begin with trying to discover what the problem is. If the problem is that the material in her classes is too difficult, then she might want to explore other majors (many could still get her into the health field). If she is struggling academically in pre-med, then the work will only get more difficult. Or she may just not have the fire for pre-med. Is she truly committed to this major? Again, she might explore other medical field options. What are her strengths? Why does she want to be a doctor? Are there other ways that she can contribute in a way that is meaningful to her? Finding out the underlying problems may help.

    One option might be for your daughter to withdraw from a class or two and then finish the semester strong in her other courses. Then she might even take a semester off (leave of absence?) to work in the medical field or take a break from school to think about what she wants. It may not be the path that you or she originally planned, but might help her find direction and return to school with renewed commitment.

    Good luck to you both!

  8. My daughter who graduated and high school and junior college with a GPA of 3.80 is crashing and burning at university. She is a pre med student but at this pace nothing is certain. She is not partying and not doing drugs but grades are worse of her entire life. I have added recently help with one on one tutors and tutor services but am clueless what to do it this does not turn things around might have to suggest two W and the two on line courses which are easy to stick with for we are dependent on scholarships which is GPA influenced. Any suggestions would be better then I am doing at this point. Desperate in Florida

    • I know this comment is too late, but I strongly suggest that one takes at least two online classes and the rest on campus. I feel it is more easier than having all of the classes on campus. That’s my point of view. I been seeing a lot of improvement.

      • Dvh – Online classes can be good, and it’s great that they are working for you. But they aren’t for everyone. Students need to think carefully about how they learn and approach material. Some students need the regular, in-person contact to stay on track. Online classes are significantly different from the inclass experience. It’s definitely something to consider, but not for everyone.

  9. Richard – Have you talked to the Registrar at the college? They should be able to explain this to you. Each college has individual policies regarding withdrawing. Talking to someone at the school will give you the most informative answer. Good luck!


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