Very few college students make it through their educational careers without dropping at least one class. While the procedures for doing so vary among institutions, here are some pointers to keep in mind.
Consider carefully before dropping a class. Is it a class that is only offered once every academic year? Is it the only section of the class that fits your schedule? Are you thinking about dropping because a major test or paper is coming up quickly? If your dissatisfaction is with instruction, is the faculty member the only one who teaches that particular class? Did you just have a truly craptastic day and you’re wanting to drop the class on an impulse? Is your grade past the point of no return late in the semester? There are good reasons and bad reasons to drop a class. It’s worth taking the time to consider which category covers your reason.
If you need to keep the same number of units, make sure to have a new class to add all lined up before you drop the other class. Dropping a class affects your overall unit load and therefore causes issues with financial aid eligibility and other aspects of your enrollment.
If classes have not yet started, dropping and adding classes can be pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that competition for class registration is fierce. There are fewer classes available due to budget cutbacks, and there are more students vying for those classes because of the high rate of unemployment.
If classes have already started, things can be a bit more tricky. The drop and add period occurs near the beginning of the semester and only lasts for a short period of time (less than a week where I teach). To add a class after it’s started, you will need the permission of the instructor to do so. Whether you will get that permission is solely at the discretion of the instructor, regardless of the number of seats available in the class. If you do get permission, get the drop and add processed immediately.
Although most colleges have computerized systems where you can do nearly everything regarding registration online, I strongly suggest dealing with drops and adds in person with admissions and records, especially if it’s after classes have started. Make sure to get a printout documenting the drop and add in case there are problems later.
Once you’ve been to a class, don’t just stop showing up and assume you’ll be dropped. It’s your responsibility to drop yourself from a class. Even though most syllabi warn that faculty retain the right to drop students from the class for poor attendance, that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be dropped from the class if you just stop showing up. Some faculty are diligent about dropping students who unexplainedly disappear, and some refuse to drop them at all.
Look at it this way. You signed yourself up for the class. If you want out, then you should un-sign yourself up. Simple enough. If you are not proactive about dropping yourself from a class, you may wind up with an F for the class on your transcript.
Pay attention to drop deadlines and their effects on your transcript. During the drop and add period at the beginning of the semester, dropping a class will have no lasting effect on your transcript. In fact, there will be no trace of it. Dropping after the drop and add period, however, can be a different story.
Again, while specific rules will vary among colleges, the way my institution handles drops is fairly typical. If a class is dropped after the drop and add period but within the drop with no W (withdrawal) period, the transcript will not reflect that the student was enrolled in the class at all. If a class is dropped after the drop with no W period but before the end of the drop with W period (about two weeks before finals), then the class will be listed on the transcript with a W to indicate the student withdrew from the class. If a student wants to drop a class after the end of the drop with a W period, he or she is out of luck. Whatever grade that has been earned in the class will appear on the transcript, and almost always it’s not a pretty sight.
Too many withdrawals on your transcript don’t look good. Dropping classes at points in time that will leave a stain on your transcript should be done sparingly. While it is true that not all future employers will care what grades are on your transcripts, some will. Your academic performance might be used as a deciding factor in choosing you over some other candidate for a job. The content of your transcripts will definitely have an impact on your competitiveness for scholarships, internships, and admission to graduate school. Your transcript can serve as a representation of the commitment and effort you offer to a new employer or to a graduate program. Keep it as clean as possible.