Struggling with a difficult course is something every college student will face at some point during their undergraduate career. Whether it’s a general education course you have to pass to move forward, or a major course that’s making you question your career path—we’ve all been there, or will be at some point. But, it’s the decision whether or not to continue on with that particular class that can sometimes be even more difficult than the class itself. With many universities putting caps on the number of withdraws a student can make during their undergraduate careers, the decision to withdraw from a course is no longer all that simple.

Before you decide whether or not you should cash in one of those W’s on your transcript, there are a few factors you’ll probably want to consider. You should never take a W in the middle of a panic—don’t rush to the registrar and withdraw from a course after your first low grade on a test, or bad feedback on an essay. In fact, don’t rush to the registrar to withdraw, ever. Rushing through an important decision might lead to you ultimately making the wrong one. So, before you decide, take some time to consider and think about a few things:

When is the deadline to withdraw?
If it’s week 2 of class and you failed a few in-class quizzes, there’s likely still plenty of time for you to decide if you’ll be able to succeed in the class. Find out the withdraw deadline and keep it in mind as you move forward in the class. Use it as the absolute deadline by which you would need to improve your grade, if you’re doing poorly. You can usually find this info on the school’s academic calendar, or through the registrar’s office.


What assignments do you have before the deadline?
If you’re in a course with only a few major grades, then doing poorly on the first one can definitely cause a bit of a panic. Check the syllabus for info on major projects and their due dates. If you have an online portal for your course, look to see what assignments, big or small, the instructor has listed to be turned in prior to the withdraw deadline. If you can’t find a list of assignments on your own, ask your instructor. Figure out if there is still enough coursework due to help you pull up your grade.

Is there still time to get some extra help?
If you’re in a major course and having trouble, then seeking some extra help should be the natural step you take. Find out if there are tutors available on campus for the subject you’re having trouble in. Big courses like chemistry, math, and anatomy often have large walk-in study sessions with teaching assistants from those courses. If you can’t find any tutoring, ask someone doing well in the course to lend you a hand. Or, reach out to the instructor. The instructor might be able to point you in the right direction, or be able to help you themselves.

Do you think you could succeed with a little extra effort?

We all mess up sometimes. We forget to study, forget to turn in a paper on time, or completely space on doing a homework assignment. It happens. If the reason you’re doing poorly in class is due to a few personal mishaps, think about whether or not you’d be able to step up your game and do a little better to bring up your grade. As an instructor, I’ve seen students withdraw from my course, even though I knew they had plenty of potential to do just fine. Don’t let laziness or even a lack of self confidence blow it for you.


Do you need the course to graduate?
When it comes to gen eds and major courses, taking the W and backing out might not always be the best idea. If you need that course to graduate, withdrawing will mean taking it again, using up more hours, and paying for more tuition. Of course, failing will mean the same thing, but will also negatively affect your GPA. So, when it comes to withdrawing from courses you need to graduate, it’s always better to try your hardest and get the best grade you possibly can on the first go-round. You also may run into the issue of the course not being offered every semester, and having to wait longer to re-take it.

How many courses have you already taken a W in?

As I mentioned before, many schools are implementing policies about how many courses a student can withdraw from through their entire undergraduate careers. In my experience, that number lingers around 4. So, if you’ve already taken a W or two so far, you’ll need to make sure you aren’t too close to that number, especially if you still have a few years left of school. Consider the fact that you might need one or two of those W’s down the road, should you run into any personal issues that require you to withdraw from multiple courses at once.

Whatever your decision when it comes to taking a W, make sure you’ve thought it through. If you still have time to buckle down and get your grade up, consider taking that route and doing your best. If you’re already too far in, the withdraw deadline is coming up, and you don’t see the possibility of redeeming your grade, then taking the W and giving the course another shot down the road might be a good option. Prior to my undergraduate university implementing the withdraw limit, I saw plenty of classmates and friends using W’s like get-out-of-jail-free passes, and then spending two extra years in school just trying to finish the requirements for their degree. When you sign up for a course, look ahead and consider the workload, and prepare yourself for the effort and time it’ll require. Get ahead so it’s harder to fall behind once the semester kicks into full gear.