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Is Withdrawing from a College Class a Wise Decision?

May 27, 2023 :: Admissionado Team

It’s no secret: college is stressful. You’ve got essays stacking up, exams around the corner, extracurricular commitments eating away at your study time, and of class, somewhere in between all that, you’d like to have a social life. We get it; it’s enough to make your head spin. 

If you’re feeling overworked, overcommitted, or as if you’re in over your head with your current coursework, you might find yourself asking the dreaded question every college student has faced at one point or another: should I withdraw from a course? 

Withdrawing from a course can be a scary concept. The “W” it marks on your transcript can leave a pit of dread in the stomachs of even the most reasonable of college students. But never fear; we’re here to help. 

What does it mean to withdraw from a class?

Most universities provide students with a “drop-add period” during which students can sign up for classes, drop out of classes, or switch classes with no repercussions on their transcripts or student records. The length of this period varies between institutions, but it typically lasts between one week and one month, with three weeks being about average. During this period, you can get a sense for how engaging a course or professor will be, how difficult the workload appears, and whether you can balance your semester’s course load successfully. However, oftentimes, one doesn’t know whether they can successfully handle their work until the first batch of exams rolls around, and that’s typically well after the drop-add free-for-all has ended.

So, what do you do when you think you want to drop a class, but the option no longer exists?  You can take another route: withdraw from the class.

What happens when you withdraw from a class?

W” can be such a nice letter, so many great words start with W: Wonderful. Watermelon. Wasabi.

Sadly, in academia, there’s also the word “Withdraw.” Withdrawing means you drop a class after the allowed add/drop period ends. You won’t receive a grade for the class, but a “W” will show up on your transcript, indicating that you were not doing well in the course and essentially quit the class. This “W” does not factor into your GPA, but it can be readily seen by anyone reviewing your transcript in the future. 

How to withdraw from a class

Before choosing to withdraw from a class, speak with your academic advisor about your reasoning. Below, we’ve compiled a checklist of possible reasons to withdraw from a course, and we’ve included our thoughts on when these reasons stack up to a compelling withdrawal decision. However, every student’s course load and commitments are different, so don’t be afraid to seek the advice of mentors whose job it is to see you succeed. 

It’s important to note that simply not showing up for a class does not count as a withdrawal (that would likely end up with a “F” on your transcript, which is inarguably far worse than a “W.”) To withdraw, you need to file a withdrawal with your academic registrar, which can likely be done from the comfort of your laptop screen. 

Reasons to withdraw from a class

There are plenty of good reasons to withdraw from a college class. 

You’re overcommitted. 

Perhaps you’ve been overambitious this semester and chose to take five, instead of the usual four, courses. After the first cycle of midterms and essays rolled through, you didn’t perform as well as you’d like in some of your courses. You feel that if you only had four classes on your plate, you could focus on delivering stronger performance and maintain a stronger GPA. 

This is typically the best-case scenario from withdrawing. Your transcript will show that you took on more courses than necessary from the start, and that you adjusted accordingly. In this case, the “W” marked beside the fifth course could very well stand for “wisdom.” 

Too many extracurriculars. Perhaps your course load is pretty standard, but you don’t have time to commit to studying for your courses because you’re overbooked outside the classroom. It’s common for ambitious students to invest in extracurricular activities, and depending on the activity, it might be perfectly fine to withdraw from a course to focus your energy elsewhere.

In this scenario, we advise you to take a hard look at your extracurriculars. Before choosing to withdraw from a course, could you instead take a semester’s break from an extracurricular activity? Think about what will make you the most compelling applicant to jobs or grad programs after college – if your extracurricular involvement is more meaningful than this one bothersome course, it could be okay to withdraw. 

The course wasn’t what you expected.

Maybe you took a “fun” elective only to learn that it wasn’t fun at all. Turns out, it’s the hardest, most demanding course on your roster. If an elective is detracting from your in-major required coursework, you shouldn’t feel bad about withdrawing from it. Anyone reviewing your transcript will be able to tell that the “W” corresponds to a course outside your wheelhouse. They’ll assume “Interpretive Dance” just wasn’t for you!  

A required course is being offered again. Perhaps you don’t jive with a certain professor, or maybe the time-slot is causing you to miss too many class sessions. So long as you take the course again and do well in it, anyone reviewing your transcript will see that a “W” this term resulted in a “A” next term, and they’ll be hard-pressed to hold that withdrawal against you. 

Pros and Cons of Withdrawing From a Class

Withdrawing from a college course can have both positive and negative consequences. It’s important to carefully consider the potential benefits and drawbacks before making a final decision.

The Pros of Withdrawing

  • Flexibility: Withdrawing allows you to redirect your energy and resources toward more pressing matters or courses you’re more interested in.
  • Relief from Stress: It can alleviate the overwhelming pressure that may be affecting your mental and emotional well-being.
  • Time to Reflect: Withdrawing provides an opportunity for self-reflection, allowing you to reassess your goals and ambitions.
  • Preserving Academic Record: By withdrawing early, you can avoid negative marks on your academic transcript.

The Cons of Withdrawing

  • Financial Implications: Depending on the institution’s policies, withdrawing may result in a partial or complete loss of tuition fees.
  • Delay in Graduation: Withdrawing might extend your overall time to complete your degree, pushing back your graduation date.
  • Impact on Scholarships: If you have received scholarships or grants, withdrawing could have implications for future financial aid. You should consult with your financial aid office if you’re worried about this. 

Is Withdrawing From a Class Bad? Should I Withdraw from A Class?

Withdrawing from a course often isn’t nearly as scary as it might seem. More times than not, there are great reasons for withdrawing from a course. That said, here are some further considerations to help you decide if withdrawing from a class is a bad move:

Are you a freshman?

If you’re a freshman, the stakes are lower. Employers and graduate schools look at your trajectory throughout your college career. A mess-up freshman year won’t count as harshly as one in the fall of your senior year, for example. 

Have you withdrawn from a class before?

Two withdrawals in all four years? No big deal. A withdrawal every term? Consider sticking it out. You don’t want to look like the kind of person who consistently can’t deliver on what they set out to do. Remember that a pattern of W’s doesn’t look good to employers. It says to them, “This kid didn’t learn from his/her past mistakes. He/she is a BIG gamble.”

Is the class necessary for your major?

If it’s an elective, don’t stress as much about withdrawing. If it’s a required course for your major, you’ll need to get through it before graduation anyway, so unless there’s a solid reason you think you could do better re-taking the course next term, it might behoove you to finish it now. On the other hand, if it’s being offered again another semester, you could consider withdrawing and taking it over later on. Your major GPA is what employers in your field will look at, so you want it to be as high as possible.

If you stayed in the class, what would the damage be to your GPA?

This is a big one: How badly would your GPA be affected by sticking out the course? If you think you can finish with a B and you need the course, should you really withdraw? If you know you’ll get an F and that it will tank your GPA, better to take the W and try again next term. 

FAQs about Withdrawing from College Course

1. Can I withdraw from a college class at any time?

Yes, you can withdraw from a college course; however, there may be specific deadlines and policies set by your institution that determine the eligibility for withdrawal. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these guidelines and adhere to them to minimize any potential consequences.

2. Will withdrawing from a college class affect my GPA?

When you withdraw from a college course within the designated timeline, it usually does not impact your GPA. It just may likely result in a “W” grade on your transcript.

3. How does withdrawing from a college class affect my financial aid?

Withdrawing from a college course can impact your financial aid eligibility. It’s crucial to consult with the financial aid office to understand the specific implications, as it may vary based on your institution and the type of financial aid you receive.

4. Can I re-enroll in the same class after withdrawing?

In most cases, you have the option to re-enroll in the same course after withdrawing. However, there may be restrictions, such as a limit on the number of times you can withdraw and re-enroll. It’s best to consult with your academic advisor for guidance on re-enrollment procedures.

5. Will withdrawing from a college class negatively impact my future career prospects?

Withdrawing from a college course does not necessarily have a negative impact on your future career prospects. Factors such as your field of study, transferable skills, professional experience, personal growth, networking, and the ability to explain your decision all contribute to your employability. With that said, it’s not smart to be constantly withdrawing from courses because it signals unpredictability, possible instability, and inability to learn from one’s mistakes. If you must withdraw from a course, sit down and think about why you had to and what you can do to prevent doing so again. 

Final Thoughts

In short, every decision to withdraw from a class is unique to the course load, commitments, and rationale of the student. The main takeaway should be: if you absolutely HAVE to drop a class, don’t stress out. Instead, make sure that the STORY your transcript and extracurricular activities you’re telling throughout your college career is own of growth and self-improvement. Learn from the slew of factors that caused you to need to withdraw from this course, and do you best to correct for them in the future!