To drop or not to drop university/college courses.

Fear - a powerful emotion that paralyzes students from making rationale and objective decisions about their education. I want to offer three solid reasons why 'dropping' (a course) is not something to be fearful of! Had I been given this advice when I was first year student, I would have saved myself from three D's on my permanent academic record. Now they are with me forever.

Consider this: you are in a first year course where the mid-term is worth 50% of your grade and the final exam is worth 50% of your grade. On the mid-term, you barely pass by getting 25 of the possible 50 points. That means you'll need a perfect grade (all 50 points) on your final exam just to get a B or 75% grade in the end. How realistic is that when you have missed a number of classes, are behind in the readings, and have lost track of most of what was said in class?

Given the scenario above, what are you thinking when you contemplate 'sticking it out'? In my 8,000 sessions with students, here's what they have told me:

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  1. Dropping is like quitting and I'm not a quitter.
  2. I need this course for my program.
  3. If I don't complete this course it will screw up my schedule next year.
  4. It's only my first year. It really doesn't matter.
  5. My parents would be furious if they knew I dropped it.
  6. If I withdraw, a 'W' will appear on my permanent record (my transcript).
It all boils down to a fear of failure.

Here is the reality: A low grade in one course will not likely ruin you academically. The question is, how many other low grades are you racking up this year?

In my former career as a university Academic Advisor, I almost always encouraged students to drop in this scenario. Here are three reasons why.

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1. Lay a solid foundation for your future.

It's hard to do well in subsequent courses when you haven't laid a solid foundation in first and second year courses. Who cares you ask? Well, think of it like building a house. If your foundation is weak, the rest of your house will be too. Trust me when I say that solid skills early on will bring success later.


2. Think long term. Your future career is at stake.

Are you looking for an even more compelling reason than laying a solid foundation? How about maintaining a solid academic record? If I had a dime for every student who said they wanted to go on to professional studies (like law or medicine) or some other profession that required outstanding grades throughout their studies, I'd be rich. Again, a low grade is not the end of your academic career, but your goal should be making the best decisions you can now for your future.

3. Get the facts first. Then make a decision.

Some institutions assign a ‘W’ for withdrawal when students drop courses. Many students believe this is a punitive notation and will adversely affect their permanent record. This is not true since the withdrawal does not explain why the student dropped the course. You may have dropped it for any number of compelling reasons including: illness, personal struggles, or financial difficulties. In fact, you may have exercised great wisdom in dropping the course realizing that you were way in over your head.

The point is that you have a choice between recording a potentially low grade on your permanent academic record and a ‘W’, assuming your institution even assigns one. There are consequences for low grades but no consequences for withdrawals. Consider this the next time you are faced with the decision to drop or not to drop.

Finally, it is important to understand that dropping is not quitting. In fact, knowing when to fold 'em (like the Kenny Rogers song) is a sign of maturity and wisdom.

Bryan Tinlin, President
Tinlin Academic Advising and Consulting