Information for the parents of college students
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Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?

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

Your college student may, or may not, share his midterm grades with you.  If your student has some low midterm grades, he 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 his 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 him think through his 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, he should be realistic about whether or not he will be able to make sufficient changes to be able to pass the course.  Will he 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 her 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 might question the student’s commitment or follow-through.
  • Generally, students do not need to provide a reason for withdrawing.
  • Your student might consider withdrawing from a course for several reasons.  Her course load may be too heavy, the class may be too difficult for her at this time, it may be an inappropriate class, she may have been overwhelmed by the transition to college, the instructor’s style of teaching may have been a mismatch, something may have caused her to fall far enough behind that she can’t make up the work.
  • Just stopping attending a class is not withdrawing.  If your student has not filed the appropriate paperwork, he will receive an “F” in the class.
  • Before your student considers withdrawing from a class, he should meet with his Academic Advisor. The Advisor can help him think through options.  Perhaps he can still take the course on a pass/fail basis.  Perhaps remaining in the course still makes sense.  Perhaps he 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 him understand that, as one academic advisor puts it, “W” sometimes stands for “wisdom”.  Your student may recognize that withdrawing from one class will allow her to put all of her efforts into her other classes, keep her GPA strong, and truly shine.
  • If the class is a required class, your student should consider carefully whether he wants 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 she makes her 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 she needs to make an informed choice.  She 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 him 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 Her Instructor If She’s Struggling

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

22 comments

1 Steve Josephs { 03.06.16 at 10:09 pm }

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.

2 Vicki Nelson { 03.06.16 at 6:53 pm }

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!

3 Steve Josephs { 03.01.16 at 7:26 am }

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.

4 Stu Michaelis { 03.10.15 at 9:06 am }

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 ?

5 Vicki { 02.26.15 at 12:35 pm }

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!

6 Herb Hamilton { 02.24.15 at 1:29 pm }

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

7 Vicki { 02.21.15 at 4:09 pm }

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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