Explaining A Withdrawal On Your Transcript

Many students have told me that they worry about how a withdraw from a class will look on their college transcript. They become concerned that it might affect their later life, such as for employment, applying to graduate school, or transferring to a different college. But the exercising the option for a withdrawal from a class is a valid move, it exists for a reason. The real issue, and a potential question for the future, is how would the student would explain why they withdrew. To a certain degree it is not really worth worrying about in many situations, because a withdrawal is an option that colleges give students if they feel that they won’t be successful in a class. But there are other situations where withdrawing may raise concerns with employers, graduate programs, and others if they cannot be properly explained.

Why Be Concerned About A Withdrawal

A single class withdrawal is not much to be concerned about for the average student. Even over the course of a full college career, having one or two withdrawals will not have a significant impact later for employment, post-graduate studies, or even transferring. However, this can depend on what the student plans on doing later. For example, highly competitive graduate programs may look at a withdrawal more seriously than less competitive ones. A notation of “W” typically means that a student withdrew, but this can be avoided by withdrawing from the class early during a college’s drop-add period, when typically no notation that a student has withdrawn from is made. A situation where colleges will always use some type of notation is after the drop-add period ends, but before the deadline called “last date to withdraw with a ‘W’” arrives, which appears a school’s academic calendar. Be cautioned, however, that some colleges will further refine this notation depending on whether a student withdrew while they were passing or failing the class. For example, some colleges use “WF” to indicate the student was failing the class when they withdrew, or “WP” to show that they were passing the class at the time. Before taking any action to withdraw from a class, students should be fully aware of how their college will notate the withdrawal on a transcript, which might mean contacting their Advisor or even the Registrar for the college.

The Significance Of A Withdrawal For Grades

When a student remains in a class beyond the normal drop/add period for a college, if they leave the class (and follow the correct procedure) it is called a withdrawal. A withdrawal simply means the student decided against continuing with the class, and they need not give a reason for exactly why. Some students will withdraw from a class because they find it too hard, don’t like the Professor, suddenly realize they have too many classes, or for other reasons. It is a students right to take this option, and a college cannot stop them if they decided to not continue with the class. Withdrawing from a class has no impact on a student’s grade point average (GPA), and it does not contribute to it like a classroom grade would. The advantage of having a “W” on a transcript instead of a bad grade is that it is a neutral notation, not one of failing a class. A bad grade, such as an “F,” not only indicates a lack of student ability but negatively impacts the student’s GPA. Each grade carries with it a certain number of quality points that ultimately determine a student’s GPA, and most colleges use the same system: 4 quality points for an “A,” 3 for a B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D, and zero for an F. If you assign each of these to the grades a student receives at the end of the term, then divide by the number of classes, that is their GPA for the term. If a student is taking four classes, and one of them produces zero quality points, that will result in a big downward pressure on the GPA calculation. Where if there were a “W” instead, that class is no longer counted in the GPA calculation at all.

Possible Reasons When Explaining A Withdrawal

A student can simply explain the reason for any withdrawal to a potential employer or graduate school later without going in to details. What is important is that, if they ask, that the reason the student withdrew is clearly stated and not left as an unknown situation or potential red flag for the employer or college program. There is no dishonor in saying that the student had to work a part-time job to get through school, so they became too busy to keep all of the classes they were enrolled in which resulted in a course withdrawal. Health or personal illness reasons are also completely acceptable, no employer or college will expect a student to be superhuman. Also, it shows good insight on the student’s part that they realized they were overloaded with classes, so they simply had to drop one class to preserve their good grades. A withdrawal allows the student to retake the class later when they’re less busy, have a better mastery of a difficult subject, or take it when they are feeling better after having a health issue.

Reasons for a course withdrawal that can be seen as a red flag to employers or colleges are mostly negative in nature. If the student had to withdraw from a class because they would have been failed due to plagiarism, or withdrawing because they violated the school’s academic dishonesty policy during that class would be seen as negative since these reflect on the student’s integrity. Withdrawing from a class then explaining that they could not see how the subject was relevant to their future shows a lack of insight, persistence, and an unwillingness to learn what Professors are trying to teach. The clearest negative reasons given for a course withdrawal include the student was arrested, incarcerated, or were removed from campus due behavioral violations such as theft, making threats, or similar issues. These will all represent danger signs to potential employers, graduate programs, or transfer colleges.

Implications For Future Academics Or Employment

While a single course withdraw, or even a few over multiple years, may not be significant there are situations where withdrawals may be a problem. Especially concerning to future graduate programs or employers would be to see many withdrawals during the same term term, or a pervasive pattern over multiple terms. Course completion reflects on a student’s characteristics such as persistence, the ability to work hard, and having the skill needed to master difficult information quickly. Having many withdrawals over multiple terms, where a student ends up dropping all classes or to part-time status, will need to be clearly explained. A common reason why a student may have pervasive withdrawals is due to medical issues. It is not unusual for such students to have withdraw from an entire semester. But there are other students where their participation in extracurricular activities, Greek life, or sports teams lead their grades to become unrecoverable so they withdraw. Colleges, graduate programs, and employers are typically very understanding that students can experience medical issues like anxiety, depression, and other disabilities that can affect them during college. But they will not be understanding if the reasons a student gives for their repeated course withdrawals simply show they were not serious about their studies. The concept of “work ethic” applies to both college and real life jobs, and grades reflect not only ability but the seriousness of one’s work efforts.

In Summary

Having one or two notations of “W” due to a withdrawal on a transcript in and of itself is not an issue that students need to worry much about explaining later on since it’s a valid option. It’s when there is a consistent or pervasive pattern of withdrawals on the student’s record that employers or graduate programs may become concerned about. If they cannot be sufficiently explained, the presence of such a pattern can be seen as the student being inconsistent in their work efforts, not effective at learning new things, or are resistant to making the effort to be successful in an educational setting. Students should be prepared to explain why any large amount or pattern of withdrawals appears on their transcript, since these can be a factor especially in competitive admission or employment situations. Overall, it is best that students avoid the need to withdraw from courses by not take too many classes at once, difficult one at the same time, or by taking hard classes by themselves during summer to increase the odds of a successful completion.

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