Obviously, withdrawing from a college course is never ideal. But sometimes circumstances make it necessary. Depending on your situation, it may be preferable to negative alternatives such as failing or earning an incomplete. But withdrawing can carry its own consequences. Before you decide to withdraw from a course that you’re struggling with, there are a number of factors you should consider first, including your school’s withdrawal deadline, your status as a full-time or part-time student, your long-term educational plans, and the nature of your financial aid package.
If you’re weighing the pros and cons of withdrawing from a class, read on to learn more...
Deciding whether or not to withdraw from a difficult course will depend on an array of factors specific to your situation. First and foremost, you need to be aware of the timeline imposed by your college or university. At most schools, you have the right to simply “drop” a class either before the semester begins, or in the first few weeks. Dropping a class carries the fewest negative repercussions for your GPA, as no notations will be made on your transcript. This differs from the “W” that will typically appear on your transcript to indicate a withdrawal.
Once the drop deadline has passed, you will have a certain duration of time thereafter to pursue a withdrawal. Every school imposes its own deadline for course withdrawal.
This can vary significantly from one school to the next. The withdrawal deadline can be as early as 2 weeks or as late as 10 weeks into the semester. In most cases, you must withdraw before the deadline at your school in order to receive a “W” on your transcript. Any later, and you would likely be required to complete the course, request an “incomplete” due to extenuating circumstances, or otherwise risk earning a failing grade.
But timing isn’t your only consideration. You should also consider whether or not the risk of failure is real and imminent. If you are considering a withdrawal simply because the class is too challenging, stressful, or time-consuming, there may be some reasons to reconsider. The most important reason is the likelihood that you’ll need to start all the way back at the beginning with this course or a similar credit requirement.
If the course in question serves as a prerequisite for your major, or fulfills a necessary elective or humanities requirement, bear in mind that withdrawal could set you back on your path to graduation. It’s up to you to determine whether it’s worth the risk of proceeding with a class where failure is a possibility. But if you decide that you can successfully complete the class with a bit of extra work, outside help, or professorial consultation, you’ll benefit by remaining on schedule for graduation.Back to Top
It is generally better to withdraw from a college course than to fail it for a number of reasons. First and foremost, failing a course will simultaneously harm your GPA and contribute no credits toward your goal of graduation. There are very few things that you stand to gain by failing a course. Simply stated, dropping is better than withdrawing but withdrawing is far better than failing. And if the deadline for withdrawal has passed, but you are in danger of failing, you should speak to an academic advisor about the possibility of taking an “incomplete.” Most schools will only grant an “incomplete” when a student is facing extenuating circumstances such as medical or family issues. An incomplete, like a withdrawal, will still show up on your transcript, but it won’t harm your GPA. In other words, anything is better than failing.Back to Top
When you withdraw from a college class, you will receive a “W” on your transcript indicating that you started but did not finish the class. If this is a class that you are required to complete for your undergraduate degree or major, you can still re-enroll in a future semester. Some colleges may indicate that you have re-enrolled in the course by placing an “R” next to the course on your transcript. Note also that some schools may have limits on how many course withdrawals a single student is eligible to take.Back to Top
Withdrawing from a course will not affect your GPA. In most cases, the only observable consequence will be the appearance of the course and a “W” on your transcript. To the point, many students who withdraw from college courses do so in order to preserve their GPA. Depending on your situation and immediate educational goals, a failing grade-or even a “C” or “D”-could be extremely problematic. Some majors, for instance, will require you to meet a minimum GPA threshold for admission. If you are on the path to a grade that might cause your GPA to fall short of that threshold, a withdrawal might be a preferable alternative. But you must be familiar with your school’s withdrawal policies. Some colleges may actually require that you are currently earning a passing grade in order to take advantage of the withdrawal option.Back to Top
Whether course withdrawal looks bad or not depends on who’s looking. If you plan to pursue admission into a graduate program, an admissions officer may take note of this “W.” While it isn’t likely that it would dramatically impede your chances of admission, it’s possible that you would be asked to explain your withdrawal during an admissions interview. Likewise, though a “W” isn’t likely to impede your employment opportunities, the same question could be posed during a job interview, presuming the hiring company views your transcript in detail.
That said, a withdrawal will not impact your GPA. It’s likely that in most cases-whether you’re seeking admission into your major, pursuing a graduate program, or applying to a job-only your final GPA will be under close consideration. While failing a class can have a seriously negative impact on your GPA, a “W” will not.Back to Top
Whether or not withdrawing will impact your financial aid will depend largely on whether you are a full-time or part-time student. International students may also need to consider the terms of their financial aid packages before withdrawing from a course. As to the latter, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution notes that
foreign students can lose their F-1 visa status if their undergraduate course load falls below 12 credit hours. In other words, they can forfeit their right to remain in the country. Rather than have that happen, they stay enrolled in at least 4 full-credit courses no matter what.
This is the rare instance in which risking failure might be the preferable alternative to withdrawal. If this describes your situation, speak to your academic advisor to learn more about retaking the course. Some schools may allow you to retake a course and, upon passing, supplant a failing grade with your new passing grade. Your transcript would likely indicate that you required two attempts to pass the course, but for international students, this may be a better option than being returned to their home country without a degree.
For domestic students, Student Loan Hero explains that withdrawing from a course will typically trigger a recalculation of your FAFSA eligibility. In some cases, you may be required to repay a portion of unused financial aid. This is a consequence that can be avoided by enrolling in a replacement course if time still allows.
Still, in the majority of instances, this recalculation won’t alter the size of your financial aid package unless withdrawing from a course alters your status from full- to part-time. According to Student Loan Hero,
Dropping a class with financial aid won’t necessarily affect your FAFSA and financial aid award. If you’re taking extra classes, for instance, you could probably afford to remove one from your schedule. But if dropping a class costs you essential credits or harms your GPA, you might not meet the FAFSA’s requirement of satisfactory academic progress.
If you are considering withdrawing from a difficult class, be sure you understand exactly how it will impact your financial aid package. Depending on your situation, it may be more beneficial to struggle toward a passing grade than risk losing a portion of financial aid.
If you do find yourself in this position, the best advice we can give you is to brush up on your studying and learning skills. Lucky for you, we have all kinds of amazing study guides, position paper topic starters, and tons of tips and tricks for elevating your study game. Get started with a visit to our Study Skills Headquarters.