Are you struggling in a class or simply not enjoying it and wondering if you should drop it? Are you worried about how this might look to colleges and future employers?
Read this guide to learn about the benefits and drawbacks to dropping and to learn how to decide whether or not you should drop a class.
What Does It Mean to Drop a Class?
Dropping a class means that you have chosen to unenroll in that course. In order to officially drop a class, you often have to visit your academic counselor or the school office and fill out a form that may need to be signed by the teacher of that class.
Many high schools only allow students to drop a class before a certain deadline. This deadline varies by high school and can sometimes be a month into the semester, halfway through the semester, or a different cutoff date. If you’re thinking about dropping a class, first make sure it’s still an available option. Ask your academic counselor, or look at your school’s student handbook to find information on drop deadlines.
Once you have dropped a class, you no longer have to attend it, and you will no longer receive a grade in that course. Instead, there will usually be a “W” (for “Withdrawn”) next to the course’s name, instead of a letter grade, on your transcript. This “W” will not affect your GPA.
You may need to enroll in a new course to take the place of the one you dropped in order to have enough credits to graduate on time, but this isn't always required. If you drop the class early enough, usually within the first few weeks, your transcript may not even show the dropped class. However, if you miss this deadline, your transcript will show that you withdrew from the course, even if you sign up for a new course in its place.
If you drop a class and later decide to retake it, you will have to retake the entire course, no matter how far along the course was when you dropped it. Also, your transcript will usually show that this wasn’t your first time enrolling in the class and that you retook it (sometimes with an “R” next to the letter grade received).
Why Might You Want to Drop a Class?
There are a number of reasons a student may want to drop a class, including:
- You signed up for too many honors or AP courses and don't have enough time to devote to all of them.
- The course you signed up for is not what you expected it to be, and you no longer find it interesting or useful.
- You signed up for too many classes above the normal high school course load and need to drop one.
- The class you signed up for is too challenging, and you don't think you'll be able to pass it or get a good grade in it.
- Your interests or future college major changed, and you decided to take courses in a different field.
- You already know the material the course covers, so you are skipping it and moving on to the next course in the sequence.
Why Might Dropping a Class Be Bad?
Students often worry that dropping a class will hurt their chances of getting into their top colleges. They may think that colleges will see them as quitters or not intelligent if their transcript shows that they dropped a class or classes.
Students may also worry that dropping a class will prevent them from graduating high school on time because they won't be taking enough credits that semester.
Why Might Dropping a Class Be Good?
Dropping a class is much better for your GPA than failing a class or getting a C or D in it is because a dropped class does not affect your grade point average. Dropping a class may also raise your GPA because it can allow you to spend more time on other classes and raise your grades in them.
If you are really struggling with a class, dropping it can also significantly reduce your stress and anxiety.
Should You Drop a Class?
Clearly there are positives and negatives to dropping a class. So when does it look bad to drop a high school class? Read through the next section, asking yourself the seven questions listed below, to help you decide whether it would be best to drop a class or stick with it.
Consideration 1: What Grade Are You Getting in the Class?
If you believe you will fail the class or get a low grade no matter what you do, it is usually better to drop it, because getting a C, D or F can significantly hurt your GPA and usually looks worse to colleges than dropping a class does. If you just happened to get a low score on one test or project, you may want to talk to the teacher about the probability of improving your grade before dropping the class. It could have been just an exceptionally difficult assignment, and there will be chances to raise your grade in the future.
If you are trying to get a perfect or close to perfect GPA and are worried that one somewhat low grade on your GPA will hurt your chances of getting into top colleges, it is generally ok to drop one class for that reason, but colleges would prefer to see a few B’s on your transcript rather than a lot of dropped classes because the latter may cause them to think you have difficulties completing things.
Consideration 2: How Have You Tried to Raise Your Grade?
If you are thinking about dropping a class because you are not getting a good grade, first ask yourself if you have tried to improve your grade. This can include studying more, setting aside more time to work on the class, and speaking to the teacher about ways to improve your grade. If you have already tried to raise your grade but are still close to failing, it is usually better to drop the class.
If you think there are ways you can raise your grade, you may want to try those methods and see if they improve your grade before dropping the class. However, be aware of how much time is left in the semester. It’s much easier to raise your grade three weeks into a class than when the class is more than halfway over.
Consideration 3: Is the Class Affecting Other Areas of Your Life?
If the class you are considering dropping is so challenging or time-consuming that it is causing your grades in other classes to suffer, it’s better to drop the class. This will strengthen your transcript in the long run because, after dropping the class, you’ll have a better chance of getting good grades in the rest of your classes.
The same is also true if you find a class so overwhelming that it causes you a lot of stress, anxiety, or worry. Feeling this way can cause other areas of your life to suffer, and that isn’t worth it just to stick with one class.
Consideration 4: Do You Need to Know the Material the Class Covers for Future Classes?
Will the information you learn in this class be used for future high school or college classes? Not understanding the material well now, even if you pass the class, could hurt your future grades.
If you are taking a class that is important to your academic and professional future but feel like you don't understand the material, it may be better to drop the class and take it again in the future if you think things will be better the next time. This is a key consideration. Don’t expect to retake a class again and get a higher grade or understand the material better if the only change is the semester you took it.
Potential changes that could justify retaking the class a different semester include: having the class taught by a different teacher, having more time to focus on the class because your other classes or extracurriculars will be less time-consuming than they are now, or knowing that you’ll study the subject between now and the time you retake the class so that you start the class with an introductory knowledge of the material.
Consideration 5: What Other Class Options Are There?
Are there other similar options for the class, such as taking it at a regular level instead of honors or AP? If so, this may make it easier to drop the class and switch to a less demanding variation of it.
This is an especially good option if you need the class in order to graduate because it allows you to complete the requirement, but usually with a higher grade than you would have received if you’d stayed in the original class. Colleges also prefer that you take a lower level course and get a good grade than take an advanced level with a very low grade.
Consideration 6: Will Your Transcript Show That You Dropped a Class?
Many high schools offer a period (often up to the first two weeks or month of class) when students can drop a class without it showing up on their transcript at all. This allows students to try out classes in a low-risk way.
If this is the case for you, and you find yourself in a class you either don’t like or can’t manage during this add/drop period, you should feel free to drop the class. There will be no mark on your transcript, so colleges won’t ever see or know that you dropped the class. If you drop a class early on in the semester, try to add another class in its place so you still have a full schedule and can be sure of meeting the number of credits required for graduation.
If this is a class you are required to take but found too challenging, be sure to be more prepared the next time you take it. Talk to the teacher about materials you can review before you retake the class so that the information is more familiar and you have a head start.
Consideration 7: Have You Dropped Other Classes Before?
Is this the first class you have dropped? If so, it is usually fine to drop the class if you find it overwhelming or not what you thought it would be, even if the dropped course shows up on your transcript. Having one dropped class on your transcript will almost never have an effect on your chances of getting accepted to colleges. College admissions officers are generally very understanding, and they know that if a student dropped one class in high school, they may have simply taken on too much or misjudged what a class would cover.
However, if you have dropped more than two classes, this may be concerning to colleges because it may show a habit of giving up or not seeing things through. If you have dropped multiple classes before, try to figure out if there’s an underlying reason. Do you sign up for too many classes and find yourself overwhelmed? Do sign up for honors or AP classes but find them too challenging? Figure out why you have dropped multiple classes and work to end the cycle, whether it’s by taking fewer classes, taking more introductory classes before moving on to advanced levels, or another method.
If you are worried about multiple dropped classes on your transcript affecting your college applications, you can attach a note to your application, explaining the situation and the work you’ve done to stop the pattern and improve since then. If you are an underclassman thinking about dropping a class, be aware that students often find the classes they take their junior and senior years to be more difficult, so if you drop a class or two as an underclassman, it may make deciding whether to drop an additional class later on a more challenging decision because your transcript will already show that you have dropped classes before.
Wondering what colleges look for on high school transcripts and how strong yours is? Read our guide to learn what a transcript includes and why it’s often the most important part of your college application.
Trying to decide how strong your GPA is? Learn what a good GPA is, what a bad GPA is, and where yours stands.
Wondering which classes you should take in high school?We have a guide that lays out the high school classes you should take in every major subject area, as well as electives, in order to impress colleges.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.