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Withdrawing or Dropping a College Course

The pros and cons that come with each decision.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between withdrawing or dropping a college course.
Withdrawing or Dropping a College Course
It often feels like we’re constantly trying to adapt to every obstacle faced, and in the time of COVID-19, those obstacles seem to keep on coming. While pulling through something might be ideal at times, what happens when the plan simply isn't working? As millions of students begin their college journey each year, the idea of withdrawing from a class can be intimidating. For many, there comes the supposed connotation of defeat and resignation. However, it is crucial to understand that withdrawing from a course does not necessarily imply laziness or lack of understanding. Instead, it displays your ability to perceive your limits and effectively decide what will most benefit your well-being, both physically and academically. Before digging into the pros and cons of leaving a college course, we should first understand what exactly withdrawing (or dropping) from a class entails. Dropping a course refers to the first week or so of the semester when you decide that a certain class is not the right fit. Withdrawing, on the other hand, is when you decide to leave a course around mid-semester.
When you drop a course, there are no penalties—meaning there will be no negative impact on GPA, your transcript will not note it. Neither will there be any financial issues, unless you fall short on the total number of credits required per semester. However, while dropping a course is relatively painless and free from consequences, the decision should still be well-considered. Is this course a prerequisite for another advanced class? Is it required for your major? When will this course be offered again? Etc. Returning from a long break, the first few class periods might seem overwhelming at first. Thus, it's a good idea to allow yourself a day or two of reflection (granted that the add/drop deadline is still a few days away), before deciding to drop a course. You might find that you enjoy the challenge and have space that semester to devote additional time to the course.
Thus, consider the pros and cons, but know that if you do end up dropping a class, there are no penalties. Students all over the country drop courses regularly at the beginning of the semester, and universities have established that week or two-week grace period for a reason. On the other hand, withdrawing from a course is a bit more complicated. While it varies from university to university, generally, you need your instructor’s and advisor’s signature to officially withdraw from a course. And though you’re still able to leave the class without it negatively impacting your GPA, a W is posted on your transcript to state that you withdrew from a certain course. And while one or two Ws are fine, if a pattern starts to emerge, future employers or admission committees will note it. Additionally, there may be some financial repercussions (like when dropping a class) if you do not end up meeting the minimum number of credits required per semester (this is generally anywhere from 12-15 credits, or 4-5 courses).
Again, consider whether this class is a prerequisite to an advanced course you’ll want to take later, or if it is required for your college major before you decide to withdraw. If you delay taking this course, will it dramatically affect your schedule in the future? Withdrawal deadlines are usually halfway through the semester, so consider whether it would be worth it to lose half a semester’s worth of work. If feasible, try reducing work hours to devote additional time to the subjects you're struggling in. Additionally, utilize all the resources provided—office hours, tutoring, study groups, the writing lab—to see if they help before deciding to withdraw. After all, your tuition covers the costs for those resources, so don't hesitate to use them. Nonetheless, if you find yourself withdrawing from a course, while perhaps disheartening, it is crucial to understand that your decision does not reflect laziness or resignation on your part. Withdrawing requires a healthy amount of courage and self-recognition. By electing to discontinue a course, you show that you’re able to recognize your limits and prioritize your well-being. An honest perception of your work and willingness to start over at another time when more prepared, if necessary, displays depth in maturity and understanding. Thus, withdrawing from a course is not necessarily a sign of weakness as it is of the strength to accept when something is not working and moving on. Moreover, withdrawing from a course may be beneficial in the long run. If one class is forcing you to neglect three or four other subjects, then it's better to drop or withdraw from that single course and do well overall in the semester than suffer in all your classes. In addition, if you don't possess the skills or requirements to fully participate in a course at the time, it may be more enjoyable to take after some further preparation. It is a consensus that withdrawing from a course is better than failing, especially since it does not affect your GPA. However, know the potential outcomes that might follow. Visit your academic counselor as well as the professor to discuss potential alternatives to withdrawing before deciding. For instance, a family-related incident or personal illness can provide for exceptions, and in some cases, the course may be marked as an I for incomplete, allowing you to finish the work later. Figure out the deadlines for dropping or withdrawing from a course, recognize how much effort you're truly devoting to it, and ultimately decide whether withdrawing will be more beneficial than sticking to the class. Your professors and advisors are there to support you in succeeding, and their experience and advice can be invaluable. Above all, know that if you do withdraw, it is a sign of your willingness to learn from the experience and move forward.

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