Late Course Withdrawals

Why Students Withdraw from Courses. Students withdraw from college and university courses for various reasons. Many of those reasons are sound, while a few of those reasons are not sound. Course withdrawals occur because students don't like the instructor, course subject, course book or resources, course content, or course delivery method, or their classmates. They withdraw because they find the coursework too much, too difficult, or not difficult enough. They withdraw because of changes in their employment, transportation, housing, health, finances, or relationships. They withdraw because of the demands of other courses. They also withdraw because of misunderstandings they have about the course and because of truths they discern or myths they hear about course projects, papers, grading, or examination. Dozens of other good and bad reasons for course withdrawal probably exist. What students often find, though, is that the reasons for withdrawal can matter when the school applies its academic policies. Right and wrong reasons can affect a student's academic standing, finances, educational career, job opportunities, and reputation. Be wise, not foolish, about course withdrawal.

The Timing of Course Withdrawal. The time within which a student withdraws from a course can be critical for several reasons. Generally, the rule is the earlier the withdrawal, the better. Some schools have lax policies on withdrawals, permitting withdrawal late in courses without penalty. In those schools, the timing of withdrawal makes little or no difference. Many schools, though, have progressively greater restrictions and progressively greater impact as withdrawal occurs later in the term. Withdrawal after registration but before the term begins typically carries no penalty whatsoever. Withdrawal in the first few days of the course may carry little or no penalty, perhaps only certain fees or loss of a small fraction of tuition. Withdrawal in the second, third, or fourth week, if permitted, may require the student to incur successively greater percentages of tuition. At some point, often between the end of the first week and no later than the middle of the term, many schools terminate the student's right to withdraw. Except for late course withdrawal policies, students are stuck in the course, for better or worse.

Why Schools Restrict Course Withdrawals. Colleges and universities restrict course withdrawal for several good reasons. Many courses make full enrollment, turning away other students who would have enrolled if the course had remained open. Students are generally well aware of the hazard of fully subscribed courses when they find that although their school offers the course, they can no longer register by the moment of their first opportunity. Students who withdraw after the course starts can effectively deny another student their course seat. Schools have various ways of dealing with the problem, such as permitting over-subscription of courses. But withdrawal still presents that problem. Course withdrawal can also become a game of professor shopping. Students flit from course to course, sampling the professors, their approaches, their challenge, and their content. The easy opportunity to withdraw can also discourage students from persisting through appropriate learning challenges. Appreciate and respect your school's reasons for restrictions on course withdrawals. Don't fight the policy. Instead, advocate your individual need for relief from restrictions.

Failing to Qualify for Withdrawal. Students who fail to qualify for withdrawal quickly recognize what may happen for getting stuck in the course to its conclusion: they may well fail the course and have to deal with an “F” grade on their transcript. Some students who find that they cannot qualify for withdrawal are able to knuckle down and pass the course. Good for them, especially if they somehow earned a decent grade rather than a poor, if passing, grade that damages their academic standing. Other students, though, find that the reasons they had for trying to withdraw were indeed very good reasons. Finding themselves unable to withdraw, they fail the course because of those compelling circumstances. Some students can weather a course failure and “F” grade on their transcript. Many other students cannot. A failing grade can cost a student honors, awards, scholarships, loans, employer tuition reimbursement, internships, references, recommendation letters, graduate school admission, and job opportunities. A single failing grade can even put a student on academic probation or result in the student's dismissal. Qualifying for course withdrawal can, in short, be a big deal for a student. If you need help qualifying for course withdrawal, then consult a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney.

Multiple Course Withdrawals. Course withdrawals are one of those things that can naturally come in bunches. Sometimes, a student needs to withdraw from only a single course. That course may present peculiar, unresolvable challenges for the student, especially in combination with other demands and courses. But just as often or more often, a student who needs to withdraw from one course also needs to withdraw from another course or several other courses. An illness, job move, pregnancy, or family crisis that impacts the student's ability to complete one course likewise impacts the student's ability to complete all other courses. Students rarely register for only a single course. Satisfactory academic progress policies tend to discourage or prohibit taking only a single course in a term. Because students typically take multiple courses each term, they also tend to need to withdraw from multiple courses at once if withdrawal from any one course is necessary. Make sure that you are withdrawing from courses wisely. If you have suffered an impactful event, don't overestimate your ability to complete some courses while withdrawing from other courses.

Late Course Withdrawal Policies. Just because a school cuts off withdrawal rights after a certain point in the term doesn't mean you have no way of getting out of the course. Colleges and universities have late course withdrawal policies. Schools have late-withdrawal policies because events inevitably arise, making continuing in a course impossible or grossly unwise for some students. Late-withdrawal policies aren't a free get-out-of-jail card. Your choice to withdraw for no reason ends with the last withdrawal date in your school's standard withdrawal policy. But if you suffer a qualifying event making it unwise, unreasonable, or impossible to continue in a course after the standard withdrawal deadline, then you are likely to find ready relief under your school's late course withdrawal policy. You should learn your school's late course withdrawal policy before you decide to withdraw if you have that choice and opportunity. If instead, you must withdraw or have already withdrawn, then you should still learn the policy, especially its conditions and procedures for qualifying.

An Example Late Withdrawal Policy. The University of Memphis has a representative late course withdrawal policy. Your school's policy may be very similar. The Memphis policy begins by defining late withdrawals as “requests to drop a course or courses after the final date to drop classes has passed.” At the University of Memphis, as at many other schools, the registrar publishes on the school calendar the last date to withdraw from a course. Memphis's withdrawal policy generally prohibits a student from withdrawing after that date, except “in case of such extreme circumstances as serious illness, relocation because of employment, etc." Memphis's late course withdrawal policy confirms that the school approves late withdrawals only “in the cases of serious and unforeseen circumstances that make it impossible for the student to complete classes that semester.” Memphis's late course withdrawal policy then lists “three criteria used in deciding what will count as such ‘extreme circumstances.' The reason for wi