Ask a Professor: Should You Drop a Class?

Ask a Professor: Should You Drop a Class?
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
By Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on September 7, 2021

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As an overeager first-year college student, I tried to sign up for six classes in my first quarter. Fortunately, an academic advisor warned me that the university considered three classes a full-time, 15-credit load. That advice prevented a disaster. I almost certainly would have felt overwhelmed two weeks into the quarter and found myself worrying about which classes to drop.

It's a question many college students face at some point: Should you drop a class? Forty-one percent of college students surveyed by researchers at Zion & Zion in 2019 reported dropping a class in their first two years of a four-year program or their first year of a two-year program.

Whether you chose an overly ambitious schedule or changed majors in the middle of the year, you might need to drop a class. Students also eliminate classes when they don't enjoy the material or don't click with the professor. Sometimes they worry about failing and decide that dropping a class beats a low grade on their transcript.

But before dropping a class in college, students should carefully consider their options. Changing your schedule during the semester can have major consequences on your transcript, financial aid, and graduation date.

What Happens When You Drop a Class in College?

College students sign up for classes every term. Dropping a class usually means withdrawing from a course after the first few days. Most colleges make it very easy for students to change schedules early in the semester. But doing so later in the term can cause problems for students.

Deciding to drop a class is a big decision. The earlier you decide to drop, the better. Waiting too long can mean missing out on a tuition refund or earning a mark on your transcript. Students might also find themselves on the hook to repay loans or grants.

Students drop classes for all kinds of reasons. In the 2019 Zion & Zion survey, the most common reasons reported include disliking the class, disliking the professor, and earning low grades.

Other reasons for dropping a class in college include the following:

Consider your personal motivation when deciding whether you should drop a class. In some cases, you can find an alternative option.

4 Steps to Take Before You Drop a Class

Changing your schedule during the semester can have big consequences. Before you drop a class, take the following steps.

1. Confirm the Last Day to Drop Classes

If you drop a class early enough in the term, it won't show up on your transcript. If you drop after the add/drop date, though, your transcript will show a "W" for withdrawal. Dropping late can also cost you, as colleges may not refund your tuition if you change your schedule after the deadline.

Your school's academic calendar lists the add/drop date. Many schools only let students change their schedules during the first week or two of the term. After that date, the process becomes more complicated. Students might need to file paperwork and pay a fee if they change their schedule after the add/drop date.

2. Research Your Financial Aid

Leaving a class can change your enrollment status, which can affect your financial aid. If dropping puts you below the threshold for full-time status, for example, you could potentially lose eligibility for certain grants or scholarships.

Before changing your schedule, reach out to the financial aid office at your school. Financial aid advisors will let you know how changing your course load could impact your financial aid.

3. Consider Changing to Pass/Fail

Dropping a class might seem like the easiest option, but sometimes it can create problems down the line. If you drop a general education requirement, for example, you'll have to retake it. The same is true if you leave a prerequisite course or one required for your major; however, students can avoid repeating work by switching to a pass/fail grade.

Keep in mind that most colleges also set a deadline to switch to pass/fail grading. College policies dictate whether you can take major or general education requirements pass/fail.

4. Reach Out to Your Professor

Contact your professor to discuss your options before dropping a class. Your professor might recommend support services like the writing center or tutoring center if you're struggling to keep up in class. Asking for an extension can also give busy students extra time.

Some professors let students take an incomplete on their transcript. This option makes sense for students who cannot complete the course requirements before the end of the term. With the professor's approval, students finish the coursework the next term. The school then updates the student's transcript with their final grade.

Students who experience problems with their professor can reach out to the department and ask about switching into another section of the course.

How to Drop a Class in College

The process of dropping a class in college varies depending on the school. Early in the term, students can often log in to their school's registration system and simply click a button to drop a class.

In my second year, for example, I decided to switch majors during the first week of school and promptly dropped organic chemistry. Fortunately, I only had to click a few buttons to change my schedule.

After the add/drop date, the process often becomes more complicated. You may need to file a paper form signed by your professor to drop the class. At some schools, you'll need to appeal for a late withdrawal. If you're dropping classes for a medical reason, you can often apply for a tuition policy waiver.

In addition to meeting with financial aid advisors before dropping a class, make an appointment to talk to your academic advisor. An advisor can help you run through your options and let you know if dropping could affect your graduation date.

After researching the policies and alternatives to dropping a class, some students will decide it makes sense to change their schedule. Whether you stick with a class or drop it, make sure you understand your options.


Feature Image: Westend61 / Getty Images

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