What does it mean to drop a class?
Dropping a course means removing that course from your schedule before certain dates such that you will not get a traditional letter grade in the course that impacts your overall record, and there might be some monetary refund (if you pay per course). Depending on dates at your university, a dropped course might appear on your transcript (official record) as dropped, and you might not get any money back.
Typically, in the early part of a semester (first few weeks depending on the university), you can drop a course with no transcript record or cost. Later in the semester (normally before the half-way point) you can drop the course and this tends to be recorded with an annotation such as “dropped”, “withdrawn – W”, or something similar. Also, this later type of drop usually does not result in any refund. Check your universities “academic calendar” that should list these specific dates.
Why would you drop a course?
First off, most early drops are done because a student is still adjusting their schedule and figuring out what their course preference is for the semester. These types of drops are minor in the big scheme of dropping, so I won’t deal with them and let’s move on to the other types.
Withdrawals later in the semester are the types of drops we are really talking about. The first factor in dropping is can you drop? There are different university rules for full-time standing, financial aid, scholarships, staying on campus, etc. which can impact your situation. Depending on your course load dropping a course can have repercussions beyond academics, so be knowledgeable about the rules for your case.
If you can drop, then the question is should you? From a repercussion stand point, dropping means that you potentially will delay graduation, which in turn means it may cost you more to complete your degree. For example, dropping can result in a prerequisite challenge where you can’t take other courses since you are missing the prerequisite, and beware that there are things called prerequisite chains where course A is needed for course B is needed for course C and so on.
On the other hand, you are usually dropping a course because the workload and likelihood of success are, respectively, big and bad. Given your circumstances, continuing in the course will have a significant impact on your grades, and as little a fan I am of grades, “F” and “D” are not good letters to have on your transcript (“F” is way worse than “D”). My question as an adviser to students in this situation is, why are you on the edge of failure – knowing that it is probably because you haven’t been continually working on the course.
All sorts of things happen in life that can result in needing to drop a course. Beyond delaying graduation, what impact might this have on your career? My perspective is that a few drops have no impact on your career. An interviewer might ask you why you dropped course X, but these can should be able to be easily explained. For example, I was overwhelmed that semester and chose to drop that course. However, multiple withdrawals of the same course Y or a large number of withdrawals can be a red flags for recruiters.
Drop a course if you have to. Life will throw curve balls that make this choice completely reasonable given your situation. It’s not a sign of failure, personal value, or anything other than you dropped a course. Just beware of the rules and repercussions, and try to stay with each of your courses from day one so that this is not an issue.
Credits: photo by: Program Executive Office Soldier; title: Maneuverable Canopy (MC) Personnel Parachute System