How To Decide When It’s Time To Drop A Class?

It’s impossible to go through university without experiencing at least one class that you either hate with a passion or are struggling with. The horrible professor, the taxing exams, the ultra-lengthy readings, the dull PowerPoint presentations… the list of cons can be long. There comes a point in many students’ higher education when the thought of dropping a class comes to mind.

There’s no way I can sit in this class for 5 hours every week. I’m so bored.
I’m doing so poorly, I doubt I am going to pass, let alone get a below-average grade.
I am so far behind, how am I supposed to catch up at this point?

The decision to drop a class is a hard one and is not one that should be taken lightly. Here are 5 common situations that will help you decide if it’s time to withdraw:

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1. You failed the first exams

How you perform on the first exams will be a great indicator of how you will do for the rest of the semester. There’s nothing more disheartening than flunking exams at the very beginning because a huge portion of your final grade is often an average of your exam scores. It can put a damper on your motivation and can make it difficult for you to perform well on later exams when often you must understand Point A to understand Point B.

If you don’t pass your first tests, you may consider dropping the course for a lower-level one that will help prepare you for the next time you try the harder one (if it’s required for your major). Don’t risk your cumulative GPA, or the need to take a summer class to make up for a potentially awful grade.

2. You’re too far behind on the syllabus

Some classes require an insane amount of reading in an extremely short period of time. 50 pages for Philosophy, 35 pages for Communications, 40 pages for Astronomy, 30 pages for Journalism Ethics, all in 48 hours, on top of the written assignments and an exam?! Say what?

It can be very easy to fall behind when you don’t stay on top of all the readings and assignments on the syllabus. Professors care about their class and their class only. They don’t care that you’re also taking 4 other classes that are assigning just as much, if not more work than they are. What they care about is if you completed their assignment and have enough of an understanding of the course content that you can get a good grade on the pop quiz they’re going to give as soon as you plant your butt in your seat. Once you’ve fallen behind, it can be incredibly hard to dig your way back up. This is because the heavy workload lasts the whole semester. University work is an entirely different beast than what you experienced in high school. There are no breaks, so you have to be diligent and find the time to stay on top of your work. If you have fallen so far behind that you can’t catch up, you may have bitten off more than you can chew.

3. You can’t stand your professor

Sure, there’s such a thing as toughing it out, but there is also something to be said for liking, understanding and respecting the person who is educating you. The more you enjoy your professor and his or her way of teaching, the more likely you will be to pay attention. If they are monotone, boring, don’t keep things interesting, or have an accent so thick that you literally cannot understand what’s being said… chances are you will find yourself daydreaming about something else. Next thing you know, you missed the lesson and fall behind.

Don’t just drop your class because you don’t like your professor, though. Assess why you don’t like them and what you can do to make the class more enjoyable.

4. You aren’t learning what you expected to learn

Dropping a class doesn’t always have to be based on your performance. You may register because the course description sounded interesting, only to get a few weeks in and find that you aren’t getting anything out of it. Before jumping the gun, take a close look at the syllabus and talk to your professor about what you can expect later in the semester. If it looks like it’ll be along the same lines as what you experienced rather than what you hoped, it may be time to step out. Your course line-up should be a combination of challenging and do-able, and there will be classes that are required but hard to get through. In all scenarios, you need to be able to find some value.

5. You missed too many classes

This falls into the same realm of falling too far behind on the course syllabus. Life happens. People get sick, people get hurt, and unexpected things happen that keep us from being where we need to be sometimes. If you have missed a big chunk of lessons (say, more than 2-3 weeks’ worth), you may find that you simply can’t catch up. While some professors post class notes online, you just have to be present to fully grasp the course content. Meet with your professor during office hours to determine just how much he or she taught in your absence, and whether they think it’s possible to make up for what was lost. They won’t misguide you.

At the end of the day, withdrawing from a class may not look (or feel) good, but it looks a lot better than a Fail and it feels better than struggling. While it’s not the worst thing that can happen, you still need to understand what type of impact it will have on your GPA and school records. Before making the drop, ask yourself if you need the course to graduate and what course you can take as an alternative. To get a better understanding of how a drop will affect you, talk to your university counselor about how to do it, what it means, and what steps you can take to move forward.