Your College Student Wants to Drop a Class? Advice From a Former Dean

Early February was always an interesting time in my office. For ten years, I served as an assistant dean at a large state university, advising approximately 400 honor students per year. As the snow fell, I had a tiny lull in requests for academic advising appointments.

The craziness of the start of the spring semester was over, and the stress of fall course registration was still a few weeks away. Yet inevitably two types of students showed up in February. The first group were planners, prepping early for registration, seeking advice on honors thesis proposals, and requesting letters of recommendation.

girl with book
Here are some tips if your college student wants to drop a class. (Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels)

The second type of students who came in February were less predictable. These students often showed up without an appointment because they were experiencing a small or large crisis such as rethinking their major, having issues with their health or roommate, and, as the registrar’s class withdrawal deadline loomed, the difficult decision about whether to drop a class.

Although each situation is unique, if your child is struggling with the decision to drop a class, here are three important questions, and one important fact to discuss with your student.

What College Students Should Think About BEFORE They Drop a Class

Have you talked with your academic adviser?

Students who are thinking of dropping a class should make an appointment to talk with their academic adviser as soon as possible. This conversation should not happen over email or the phone. I’ll never forget an email that said “I am getting a C in Organic Chemistry. Should I drop the class and quit the premed track?” I, of course, immediately called the student and invited him to come to my office.

If your child is asking these types of big questions, your student needs to carve out the time to talk with someone. Advisers can help students think through the decision to drop a class in the context of their overall academic plans, reviewing the impact on graduation or scholarships, requirements, GPA, and workload.

Some schools even offer mini courses that begin half-way through the semester to help students maintain a full-time courseload after dropping a class. These special classes fill up quickly, but advisers typically know which of these courses are still open and often can assist with selecting and registering. Advisers will also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of repeating a course another semester, and refer students to academic support services for those that ultimately choose to remain in the class.

Why do you want to drop the class?

It is important to uncover the reasons your child wants to drop the class. A good adviser will discover this information as well, but as a parent, you may have access to some information that your student might not share with the adviser. Is it grades, missing assignments, lack of interest in the material, or something else entirely?

Newsflash – Getting a C or B instead of a typical A is not a good reason to drop a class. Struggling academically in college is normal, even for students who did well high school. Students and parents should not worry too much about an individual semester’s GPA because GPAs fluctuate. Remember how an average works. As students accumulate more credits in your total, each individual grade impacts the GPA less and less.

Has your child utilized the school’s academic support services, such as the learning or writing center? In addition to traditional tutoring, most schools’ learning centers also offer free help with issues like time management, procrastination, test anxiety, and study strategies. While many of my advisees regularly took advantage of tutoring, the few that went for academic coaching always reported back that it was extremely helpful. Most importantly, be supportive and remember that this is your child’s decision.

Do you know the deadline and procedure for dropping a class?

Although the process for dropping a class varies by school, the adherence to strict deadlines is universal. If the deadline has passed, it is too late. Withdrawal deadlines are usually available in the school’s academic calendar or on the registrar’s website.

Academic advisers can also clearly explain the process for dropping a class. Additionally, students who are considering dropping a class should make the decision as early in the semester as possible. Any additional time spent in a class that a student eventually drops is time that the student could have used to devote to other classes.

Finally, if your child has the ability to drop a class online, the student should attempt it before noon on a business day. This way, if there is a problem, your child can go to an office or call someone to get assistance. Waiting until 11 p.m. on the last day to drop a class invites disaster into the process.

A fact – A W is not an F.

Rumors about course withdrawals, typically noted by a W on a transcript, ruining students’ lives run amok on college campuses. Let me set the record straight. One or two Ws spread out over four years will not impact graduate school applications or future employment.

Most students have at least one W. Graduate schools or future employers might question a pattern of Ws, one every semester or year, but disregard a W on a transcript. To some people, Ws demonstrate that the student understands how to work within a bureaucracy and make good timely decisions.

Finally, once your child makes a final decision, don’t waste time second guessing the decision. Unless the class was an upper level physics class and your student learned how to travel back in time, the best anyone can do is make educated decisions in real time and move forward through the remainder of the semester.

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Karen Dentler has over 20 years of experience in higher education administration. She began her career working in student life and residence life at Carnegie Mellon University and Princeton University. At Rutgers University, she moved to academic administration, initially working with transfer students. Most recently, she spent 10 years as an Assistant Dean for the School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, advising over 400 students each year. Karen is currently working on a book about how to succeed at college. She has an MA in higher education administration from the University of Michigan and a BA in philosophy from Colgate University. Karen lives in central New Jersey with her husband and daughter, who left for college this fall. To prepare for an empty nest, she stocked up on tissues and learned to use SnapChat. Website: https://karendentler.com/

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