Dropping class with W sometimes 'better' than GPA tanking

Dropping class with W sometimes 'better' than GPA tanking

CW File

As students near the end of their spring semester, those struggling in particular classes can drop the credit for a "W" on their transcript. The deadline for UA students to drop a class with a W is March 28 at midnight, a final opportunity for students to avoid a bad grade permanently affecting their GPA. 

The University of Alabama Registrar defines a W (Withdrawal) as an individual class dropped before the 10th week of a regular semester, this number adjusting for summer semesters and 10-week sessions. Following the drop date for classes, students are expected to keep up with the courses they have registered for. 

Catherine Elliott, the Director of Advising Programs for the College of Arts and Sciences, said students drop classes for a number of reasons, including their grades, and that it is better for students who cannot handle their coursework to keep up their grades and take the W. 

“The reason they drop usually is for grades," Elliot said. "It’s better not to have a hit to your GPA, it’s better to withdraw from the class. If you have multiple withdrawals, that can affect federal financial aid and graduate school applications. If you are not on financial aid, it prevents you from graduating in a timely fashion.”

Sarah Cantrell, an instructor in the Department of English said that a W in a course has the potential to slow down a student on their track toward graduation, but could be a necessary step for a student’s well-being and overall success.

“As a general rule, a W tends to mean that the student has to retake a course or a similar one, which can, but not always, slow down time to graduate or force a student to take more courses than advisable during another semester,” Cantrell said. “At the same time, a W can also allow a student to focus on another, more demanding course with greater success, as is sometimes necessary, or equally important, to privilege a non-academic personal issue, like emotional or brain health in order to succeed at a later date.”

Leaving a class partway through the semester does not affect a student’s GPA as a failing grade would. Instead, it provides an opportunity for students to slow down and focus on the classes they can handle. Elliott said that graduate programs are more understanding of a student withdrawing from a semester rather than several withdrawals over the span of multiple semesters, recommending students speak to their advisers sooner rather than later.

“If someone drops multiple classes over several semesters, that can look poor in the eyes of a graduate program,” Elliott said. “Now if someone withdraws from a term and gets all Ws that term, that is something that is usually explainable on a transcript to a graduate program if something happened that semester. That’s different than five withdrawals in five different semesters.”

As is stated on the UA registrar’s website, students are encouraged to speak with their advisers before dropping a class for a W. This decision could impact the student’s full-time student status, where the loss of total hours below the threshold could affect scholarships, financial aid and graduation dates.

“It’s always good to have a conversation with an adviser in the college in which they are enrolled," Elliot said. "You’ve got faculty advisers and professional or college advisers. The college adviser may be more knowledgeable about the facts of a withdrawal than a faculty member may be. I would say go to your college or professional adviser about withdrawals if you are uncertain of doing so.”

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