How to Know When to Drop a Class

How to know when to drop a course

A good portion of my conversations with students this week have involved the phrase, “I think I need to drop a class.” It’s this way every semester. After classes start, many times students realize that they either registered for a class that is not what they expected, or they took on too many classes for one semester. Other times, life just gets in the way.

Regardless of why students consider dropping classes, the decision isn’t an easy one. In a sense, it can feel like giving up; like you aren’t smart or capable enough. It’s a choice that could affect your graduation schedule, your future class schedule, and your financial aid. The truth is, though, there are still plenty of times when dropping or withdrawing from a class is the best decision. It happens all the time for many different reasons.

Students usually register for classes several weeks or months before classes actually start. Their lives—both personal and professional—may be in a good place when they register, but by the time the semester actually starts (several weeks or months later) things can change. This semester I have been working with a student who registered for classes in June, but early in August she found out she needs surgery. She had to drop her classes and defer her admissions so she could focus on her health. Her plan right now is to return next semester. I also have a student who initially thought he could handle a full-time class schedule, but later realized it wouldn’t be feasible for him. He made this decision so he could perform better in his three classes rather than spreading out his limited time on four classes and not get the grades he felt he could achieve.

There are many instances when it might be a good idea to drop a course. Here are some situations in which I recommend it:
• If you can honestly say you tried and you either can’t handle the amount of work or you just do not understand the coursework.
• If you have already missed a couple of deadlines early in the semester.
• If you have not yet attended this class either in person or online and it is week 2 of the semester.
• If you have had life changes or health issues since you registered for classes, and it would be better for your grades and GPA to drop the class.
• If the course simply isn’t what you expected it to be, and it does not suit your goals and interests.

The Logistics of Dropping
First, I should be clear that there is a difference between “dropping a class” and “withdrawing from a class.” For most colleges and universities, there is a two week add/drop window at the beginning of each semester when you can make schedule changes without a penalty. Dropping a class during this time period means the class never appears on your official transcript—you’re free and clear of it, and no one will ever know you enrolled. Something to keep in mind though: if you received financial aid money for the class you drop, you will usually have to pay it back.

Once the add/drop period has closed, the only way to get out of a class is to withdraw. In this case, the class will show up on your official transcript as a “W”. You will also most likely be charged a portion of the tuition and fees because you attempted the class and are choosing to withdraw. In all cases, there are specific dates posted that you have to follow. Make sure you have reviewed these deadlines as you make a decision to change your schedule.

So, how do you drop a class? First step is to look at your course syllabus and review the deadline dates. Most dates that apply to your specific course are listed in the course syllabus. You can also review deadline dates on your institution’s academic calendar. Then, speak with your academic advisor before dropping. I cannot stress enough how important it is to consult with your advisor. They may be aware of some implications you are not, and can help answer some of the following questions (adapted from About.com College Life):

• Is this a required prerequisite course that is only offered once a year? Dropping this type of class can affect your graduation date.

• Do I need this class to graduate in the year? If you are within two semesters of graduating, dropping a class can affect your graduation date.

• How will dropping a class affect my financial aid? If you are dropping a class, you will have fewer total credits and this may affect your financial aid award. You may end up having to return money that you received.

• Do I need to be a full-time student for financial aid, scholarships, VA benefits, health insurance, etc…? Dropping a class may put you below full-time status.

• What is the real reason I want to drop this class? Can I resolve the issue in another way? Some examples of reasons include:

-You are working too many hours. Yes, extra money is nice, but a little math may help you decide that your long-term goals are more important than a short-term financial boost.

-The class is difficult. But is it too difficult? Perhaps getting help from a tutor or professor could give you that extra push to be successful in the class.

If you’ve thoroughly thought through the above questions, and decided that dropping a class is your best option, work with your academic advisor to complete the steps necessary. Remember, it isn’t an easy decision, but in the end, you have to do what’s best for you.

Discussion