The Drop Zone – How to Know When to Drop A Class


It’s bound to happen to everyone- you register for a class with a really difficult professor,  you take on too many hours and fall behind, you fail the first test, or you’re just generally overwhelmed with school. It’s times like these when many college students panic and end up dropping a class for fear of a damaged GPA or on the phone with their mom or dad (trust me, even I’ve been there). While dropping a class might seem like the end of the world at first, sometimes it can be the best  (not to mention smartest) option. Just consider these important factors first:

Financial Aid
Dropping a class means you’re also dropping hours from your college schedule. So, for example, if you had been taking 15 hours to begin with, and you drop a 3-credit class, you’re now only taking 12. While this may not seem like a big deal, it’s important to make sure that after dropping the class, you won’t be putting any financial aid you’ve received in jeopardy. Be careful to keep up your status as a full-time student because almost all loans and grants require that to be eligible, and any money you’ve previously received may be revoked. The same goes for scholarships.If you’re unsure what stipulations come with any aid you received, be sure to talk with the college’s financial aid office before you drop a class.  

Graduation Requirements
Almost every collegiate program has general education requirements – classes outside a student’s major or college that are required in order to have a basic knowledge about general subjects, such as Biology, English, Political Science, etc. This typically is where most students tend to take too advanced of a course, or find themselves in a class that's completely different from what they expected. The good news is that most of these “gen ed” programs allow students to pick from a variety of fields. Don’t like that Shakespeare class? You can probably drop and take a modern English Lit class next semester. Just make sure you’re not dropping a class that you’ll have to take again later with the same professor solely because you’re not interested in the material or aren’t a fan of the way the professor grades. In this case, you’re only prolonging the inevitable.  Talk with an advisor or university representative if you’re not sure which classes you’ll need to take in the future or what your other class options are.

It’s always important to watch out for drop/add deadlines. If you really want to drop a course but it will put you at risk of being a part-time student, you might still be able to add another class for the same semester (thus making life a lot easier for you). Many colleges also have 8-week classes that have a later add deadline, making it possible to add a mid-semester course long after the original semester-long deadline has passed. And definitely watch out for the drop deadline. If you don’t drop a class by the deadline, you risk having a “W” (for withdrawal) permanently placed on your transcript, which you should avoid if at all possible.

Honors/ Extracurricular Activities
If you’re an honors student or athlete, be aware that you might be held to certain extra conditions that other students are not. Honors students are often required to take more hours than the average full-time student minimum, and athletes often have to maintain a certain G.P.A. to play. If you fail to do so, you may lose your honors status or be benched for the season. Certain professional societies also have these types of requirements, and even fraternities and sororities will put you on probation if your G.P.A. is below average. If you think continuing on in a class where you’ve failed a test or paper will severely damage your grades seriously consider dropping or switching altogether.

Class Opportunities
Lastly, be sure to take into consideration how many opportunities are left in the class. If you failed the midterm and the only thing that ‘s left to redeem yourself with is the final, dropping may be your best choice. If you’ve got plenty more assignments left, take a realistic look at your schedule and motivation level and decide if you really think you can pass. Be honest with yourself. If the answer is no, then drop it. But if you think you may be able to pull it off, don’t shy away from a challenge. There are also alternatives to dropping a class – you may be able to switch sections, get extra credit, or work with the T.A. after-hours.   Continuing on may be a risk, but don’t be afraid to bet on your intelligence and your determination.


 By Kristy Shaulis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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