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

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

  1. Dear Sir/ Madam,
    In fall semester of 2014 I studied at University of South Alabama and worked Ameri-Force Inc. on weekend shift. I lost this job then Ameri-Force sent me to another job in Gulf port, MS. This is weekday shift therefore I had to drop 2 day-time courses and keep 1 night-time course on 08/30/2014. I got the W on my transcript that prevent me from receiving financial Aid. Could you please tell me there should be a letter W or not on my transcript. I withdrew before the no-refund day. Thank you very much. I am looking for receiving your answer.

  2. You people live in a fantasy world. I’ve withdrawn from classes and have retaken them again. No one graduates in 4 years unless they are in a arts or business program. I like how this is geared towards parents of college kids. Mommies and daddies who send their children to school to live Their dreams.
    One last thing… For the author.quit trying to make yourself sound like you know something about employers. I’ve worked 15 in power plants. I’m finishing up an ME degree. Its all in who you know. Nothing to do with grades …QED #

  3. Diana – That really depends on the school and how early in the semester you withdraw. Work with your school financial office and/or check the college catalog. They usually state their policy there.

  4. Lisa, I can only imagine how difficult this decision must be for your family. No one can tell you what is right for you or for your son. You will need to decide together. The only suggestion that I can make is that you need to have a straightforward conversation with him. Tell him what you have seen, what you feel, and what your fears are. If you are paying the tuition, let him know whether there are conditions for you to continue. Ask him to talk to you about what he feels his responsibilities are in the “college partnership.” If you are paying tuition as your part, what is his part? One key might be to ask the questions and then really listen to what he has to say. Ask him whether he feels a break with some time to mature might be a good idea. He may agree. If he doesn’t want to take a break, work together to decide what the expectations are moving forward and what actions he can take to change things moving forward. Take time to read some of our other posts – particularly about communicating with your student. Perhaps they will be helpful. Good luck to both you and your son!

  5. Our son is at the midpoint do his second semester and is faced with the decision to withdraw from another class. He is enrolled in four classes which is the minimum for full time. His Dad and I are considering making him withdraw from a four year school until he matures a little more. He didn’t live in his dorm for 3-4weeks due to his roommate being so dirty, rushed for a fraternity but didn’t have the GPA and didn’t get an exception. The last time we were in his dorm he had a pile of liquor bottles under his bed from partying. This is a huge expense for us and he hasn’t put forth the effort needed to be successful. This is a hard decision for his Dad and I, help!

  6. Ron, thank you so much for this comment. It is such good advice. I hope students who may be struggling (and their parents) will read this and realize how important attitude and persistence are and that they can make a difference. Thank you for sharing your story. ( And congrats on that B+!)

  7. This past semester I was faced with the decision as to whether or not to drop a class. I’m a graduate student and the class was an advanced course on a subject that I wasn’t very good at. In fact, it had been about 10 years since I had study the topic as part of my undergraduate degree and frankly, I was happy to have passed that class then by the skin of my teeth.

    But I wanted to learn this subject and I really wanted to try, however I was afraid. Afraid of failing and what that would mean. The fact is, the subject was in my major, so I ought to at least be able to pass it, right? Afraid that it would hurt my GPA. Afraid that if I didn’t get at least a B, my company wouldn’t pay the tuition. Perhaps, my boss would find out.

    What does it mean if I fail? It doesn’t mean much. It certainly doesn’t mean that you aren’t good or can’t be good at something. There are plenty of things that were really hard in the beginning, but over time I got much better at them. It may however, mean that you don’t have the background education needed to be successful in the course. If you fail, maybe it simply means that you bit off more than you can chew. Anyone should be able to live with that.

    Take the money out of the equation. For me, despite my fears, I really wanted to try. What made it easier for me was to take the money out of the equation. Assume for a moment that I wouldn’t get a B and I’d have to cover the entire tuition. Or, let’s say I withdrawal late in the semester, and would have to pay the bulk of the tuition. Okay, if I just assume that I would pay the tuition, then that will take quite a bit of pressure off. And I can just focus on the course and not worry about the money.

    You have options. You could stick with the course and if late in the semester you realize you are going to get less than a C, you could always take a W and not hurt your GPA. If have a scholarship that depends on the number of credits you are required to take, you could always make it up in the summer. Again, if you take the money out of the equation, you have options.
    You could also choose to take the prerequisite course(s) and build up to that course. You could wait and take the course from another instructor or take the course at a community college. But again, you have options.

    It’s like running a marathon. If, as I did, you decide to go for it, know that it will be difficult and at times agonizing. I was constantly debating about whether to drop. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It felt like running a marathon where your brain is always trying to get you to quit. What worked for me was to come up with a plan and to stick to it.

    My plan. I knew the drop dates, so I knew when was the last day I could withdrawal without hurting my GPA. I was utterly committed to do my best until that date. At that time I would review my grade thus far; talk to the professor and then make a decision. Until then, I would do my absolute best and no matter what, not give up. I planned out my study schedule and committed to working days; nights and weekends. I started a study group and after each exam, I reviewed what went well and what didn’t go so well. I then adjusted my plan to prepare for the next exam.

    What happened to me. After the first exam, I was sure I was going to fail. I felt I would be lucky to get a C, but really at that point I was sure that I would withdrawal and had to keep fighting with myself to not just drop now and put myself out of this misery. However, I stuck with it and tried figure out what I would do differently for the next exam. For example, I’d meet with the TAs more; I would spend more time on the problems in the book rather than reading the chapters and so on. And low and behold, on the next exam I did much better. As I got further into the course, it became apparent that I would pass and that a B wasn’t so out of reach. At the end of the day, I got a B+.
    I was exhausted at the end and was happy to have gotten through it. While I would still say that I am not very good at this topic, I did learn so much and proud that I overcame my fears and passed.

  8. I’m considering dropping a class this week since it requires me to put a lot of time and effort and its kind of dragging down my performance in 2 other classes. Put the thing says that employers look negatively at withdrawals, is that true?

  9. Good advice, Tina. Making sure that students carefully read the policies of any school is so important. Just because a student knows what the policies were at one institution doesn’t mean that they will be the same at another school. This can be a dangerous trap for some transfer students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Vicki,
    More and more colleges and universities are including transfer course grades in the GPA calculation for graduation. Please be sure to read the college/university catalog very carefully to determine their policy regarding transfer credits and how they may (or may not) affect the student’s GPA.

  11. Great thought, Eric. Making up those extra credits is important for students to stay on track. Transferring a course from a community college is a good idea. Students do need to keep in mind that when they transfer credits from another institution that the grade does not calculate in their GPA. So if students are trying to raise their GPA in addition to getting credits, they would need to take the course at their own institution.

  12. Vicki,

    This is a great post and one that both parents and students should read through carefully.

    Another point to consider is that, by withdrawing from a course, the student needs to eventually make up the credits if they want to graduate on time. This is where summer courses or winter courses become very important. For a fraction of the cost, a student can take a course at a community college and then transfer the credits back to their home institution. For example, here in CT, the per credit cost is $133. A three credit course would be $399.

    Much more cost effective than going an extra semester or an entire year and paying thousands of dollars.

  13. Thanks for your question, Joe. If your student is having difficulty it is certainly a time when you have concerns about the process. The short answer is that it will depend on the school policy. At many schools, if you withdraw by a certain date, usually early in the semester, it will not appear on a transcript. Most of the time, withdrawing from either a class or from the school, later in the semester will appear on a transcript. What is important to understand is that it is not a disaster to have that withdrawal on a student’s transcript. A withdrawal on a transcript – either from a class or from the college – is an opportunity for conversation when your student either transfers, reapplies to college, or applies for a job. Your student can explain what the problem was and how he or she addressed the problem and learned from the situation. Most colleges and/or employers will understand.


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