It's the middle of the quarter and things are starting to get rough. Should you withdraw from that class you're struggling in? Read on to learn more about what a W really is (and what it isn't) and some considerations to help you decide.
What is a W (Withdraw)?
If you drop a course before the week 3 Final Study List deadline, it disappears cleanly from your transcript as though you had never been enrolled. However, after week 3 you no longer have the option to drop a course cleanly from your record. Instead, you may choose to withdraw from a course up through the Course Withdrawal Deadline on the Friday of week 8. In this case, the class remains on your record and a notation of “W” (for Withdraw) is recorded on your transcript for that course in place of a grade.
Note that a W is not considered a completed course grade. Therefore, a 'W' cannot be overwritten on your transcript by repeating the course.
How bad is a W?
Though many students worry about Ws on their transcript, in truth a W gives away very little information. It merely reflects that sometime between the third and eighth week of the quarter you decided not to continue with the class. A W is not a “black mark,” and it says nothing about your performance in the class up to that point. It reveals much less than an NP (No Pass), or an RP (Repeated) notation on your transcript. A W also has no GPA impact. And a class from which you have withdrawn is not considered "complete," and therefore does not count toward the limited number of times you may repeat a course.
An occasional W on your transcript is a fairly common occurrence, and nothing that will jeopardize your future career or your plans for graduate school, professional school, etc. Someone looking at your transcript is not likely to notice your individual Ws unless they start to suggest a frequent and recurring pattern: if, for example, your transcript shows that you always ambitiously enroll in a high number of units every quarter and then always have to withdraw every quarter because you've overextended yourself. If you find yourself falling into these repeated habits, now may be a good time to come talk to your Academic Advisor!
But if your Ws are infrequent and do not suggest a pattern, they are not a major cause for concern.
What if withdrawing drops me below 12 Units?
If withdrawing would drop you below 12 units, we recommend talking to your Academic Advisor before taking any action. We describe certain special situations and considerations below, but don’t hesitate to come in for a meeting if you have questions!
Special Eligibility Categories
There are certain cases where you may not want to withdraw from a course if it will drop you below 12 units. For example, dropping below 12 units can affect situations such as:
- International Student Visa Status
- Eligibility status for NCAA student-athletes
- Eligibility status for certain scholarships (particularly non-Stanford external scholarships)
Talk to your Academic Advisor first if you are affected by one of these categories and are considering withdrawing from a course. In these cases, you may want to consider alternatives such as changing your grading basis to CR/NC so that you can still maintain your eligibility.
Academic Progress Requirements
If none of the special eligibility categories above apply to you, then the main issue to consider is whether withdrawing from the course will stop you from meeting your minimum academic progress requirements. All Stanford students are required to successfully complete 9 units in any single quarter, and 36 units over the most recent three quarters.
If you can meet these requirements even after withdrawing from a course, then dropping below 12 units for the quarter may not have any immediate negative consequences. If you’re not sure whether you can meet these requirements or not, come talk to your Academic Advisor!
I should be fine on eligibility issues and minimum requirements. Should I withdraw?
Here in Academic Advising, we often like to say that a W stands for “Wise.”
In many cases, withdrawing when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be the right choice. If you find yourself struggling in a class to the point where it's dragging down your performance in your other courses, sometimes letting go is the strategic move. Remember that it's often better to drop down to a manageable workload and do well in it rather than stretching yourself too thin and doing poorly in everything!
Whether you’ve found your schedule to be too demanding, or you are dealing with an unexpected life challenge, or you’re simply no longer invested in a course, withdrawing can be a way to take back some time and energy for yourself. That time and energy can then be spent on other classes, obligations, opportunities, or personal needs.
In these cases, a W can show that you took both initiative and responsibility, and made a decision to protect your time and your work in your remaining classes. A wise move indeed!