It can be tempting to drop one class (or more) during your time in college. Your workload might be too high; you might have a dreadful professor; you might be struggling with health issues; or you might simply need a bit of a break. But while dropping a class can be easy logistically, it can also present a lot of challenges when it comes to staying on track during your time in school. So how can you know if you should drop a class -- or not?
Find a few minutes by yourself to really think through the following questions:
1. Do I need this class to graduate in the next semester or two? If you need the class to graduate this semester or next semester, dropping it will have some pretty serious consequences. Your ability to make up the units and/or content will interfere with your plans to graduate on a certain schedule. And while you can still drop the class, doing so now might present more challenges than benefits. Consider how extending your graduation timeline will affect other parts of your life. Will your applications to graduate school need to be delayed another year? Will you be entering the work force at an inopportune time? Will you miss out on professional opportunities you already have lined up?
2. Do you need this class for a class next semester? Many courses in college are sequenced. (For example, you have to take Chemistry 101 before you can move on to Chemistry 102.) If the class you want to drop is a sequenced course, think carefully about how dropping it might bump everything down in your schedule. Not only will you be starting your sequence later than you planned, you'll be moving down everything else. (For example, you won't be able to start O-Chem and/or P-Chem when you originally planned since you won't finish Chem 102 when you thought.) If your course is a prerequisite for your major or for upper-division classes, make sure to consider the longer-term consequences of dropping the class now versus just plowing through it.
3. What impact will my reduced courseload have on my financial aid? Reducing your load from 16 units to 12 might not seem like that big of a deal, but it might have a pretty significant impact on your financial aid. Check with your financial aid office -- and the specific requirements of any of your scholarships, grants, or loans -- about what number of credits are required for you to keep your financial aid the way it is. While there is usually some flexibility about how many units you are required to take to keep your full-time status (and financial aid), there is definitely a number of units you don't want to dip below. Make sure you know that magic number before you drop a class.
4. What will the consequences be on my transcript? When you drop a class in college can be just as important as why. If you submit your drop form before the add/drop deadline, for example, the class may not even show up on your transcript. If you drop the class afterward, however, it might show a "W" for withdrawal or something else. And even if you're not considering graduate school and think you'll never need to show anyone your transcript as long as you graduate, think again: some employers want a transcript as part of your job application materials and others might require a certain GPA of applicants. Just know how any dropped class will be reflected on your transcript or other materials you'll use after graduation.
5. Will I need to make the credits/requirement up? If so, how and when will I do it? If the class you want to drop is part of your language requirement, for example, you'll need to figure out when you can take another class to replace it. And while "later" might be an option, you'll need to get specific. Can you take another or a similar course next semester? Can you take something over the summer? Will the courseload then be overwhelming? How will you pay for the extra class? Finding a replacement class can be challenging, too. If, for example, you just plan to take a similar class at a community college near your house while you're home for the summer, you'll need to make sure -- in advance -- that your credits transfer. The last thing you want to do is think you've made up the credits somewhere else only to find out that they won't transfer.
6. What is the main reason I want to drop this class? Can I solve the problem another way? Academics should always take the highest priority during your time in school. If you're dropping a class because you're too busy, for example, it might be wiser to cut out some of your cocurricular involvement instead of dropping a class. Similarly, if you find the material too challenging, consider hiring a tutor or going to your professor or TA for regular office hours. Doing so might end up being easier (and cheaper) than having to take the class again. No matter where you go to school, there are lots of resources to help if you're struggling academically. Dropping a class should be the last option -- not the first! -- if you're having problems in a course.