Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?

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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.
  • 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.

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