I ended up withdrawing from one of my classes, which was totally a good decision. But the hardest part about it was, for some reason, actually deciding to do it. It seems like a lot of people aren’t really sure about what withdrawing does in terms of GPA and transcripts, or under what circumstances they should consider withdrawing, so I did some research.
Obviously, when you withdraw from a class, you get a W in the class-- this means that it’s not incorporated in your GPA, and, literally, there will be a W on your transcript next to the class name. What everyone seems to ask when I mention that I’ve withdrawn from a class is, “Is this a problem when college advisors look at your transcripts?”
I’ve gotten a lot of mixed answers, but essentially-- no. A couple of spaced-out W’s does not seem to give colleges any pause, and it’s definitely better than a failing grade in a class. What is problematic is a regular pattern of withdrawals-- withdrawing from one or two classes every semester, or something akin to that-- because colleges may interpret this as a evidence of a sloppy work ethic. This doesn’t mean that having a lot of W’s is necessarily bad, but I’ll get to that.
When to withdraw:
There’s really a wide variety of reasons that someone might withdraw from a class and the reason is typically not listed on transcripts unless you’re asked to clarify why you have a lot of W’s, so go nuts. Within reason.
When you’re going to fail a class -- This is the most common reason people withdraw from classes, since W’s are much preferable to D’s or F’s.
When you’re not sure you can handle the coursework -- As long as you don’t make a habit of it, as mentioned before.
When you have a problem with the professor’s method of teaching/grading/whatever -- This is mainly why I withdrew from the class I was taking, and it’s also largely subjective. I wasn’t big on my prof’s method of teaching, but that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me. What was a deal-breaker was that I had reason to think that we had such a severe clash in opinion that it may have affected my grades on coursework, and so it wasn’t worth the effort. But ultimately, it’s up to you.
When you have a personal emergency -- It’s not unheard for people to drop all their classes for a given semester due to failing mental health, or a death in the immediate family, or some other emergency, and colleges likely know that. This is where having a lot of W’s is not necessarily a bad thing-- it will be clear to college advisors that something happened to make you drop a semester’s worth of classes entirely, and that something is not likely to be pure laziness. When it comes to emergencies, it’s understandable that school is not the first priority.
I am not an expert though, obviously, so before deciding to drop a class, it would be advisable to consult a counselor on how this will impact your transcripts specifically and what to do next.