Ask a Prof: Dealing with withdrawal

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Ask a Prof is a monthly column which answers student questions on any topic. The Prof answering is Jim Benedek, a Professor in the School of IT’s office administration programs. Ask your question by completing the form at:

Hey Prof, I’m not doing very well in one of my courses and I’m thinking about dropping it. Any advice?

Signed: Drop it like it’s Hot

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As the course withdrawal deadline approaches, it’s a good time to think about whether you’re better off withdrawing from (dropping) a course or sticking with it. Before deciding, I’d encourage you to speak to your professor and your academic advisor about your options. That’s exactly what I did, and I was surprised to learn that dropping a course could have some undesirable consequences on funding, co-op/placement, program completion, and even Fanshawe residence.

If you’re considering withdrawing from your program as opposed to a single course, please contact your academic advisor as well as the registrar because you’ll need to be aware of other factors which I don’t address below.

There are several reasons that students consider dropping a course and chief among them is that their grade is below passing. Before you drop a course in which you’re struggling, start by reviewing the grade book in FOL to determine what percentage of the evaluations (test, assignments, etc.) have passed. Most courses are weighted more heavily to the latter part of the semester, so you may be pleasantly surprised about your chances for success.

Your prof can tell you about the mathematical possibility of you passing, but s/he won’t be able to tell you what the odds are. Only you know how much time and effort you can commit to the course. If you decide to persevere, remember that Fanshawe has loads of resources available to support you.

For example, The Learning Centre, in room F2001, provides free help from experts in English, math, accounting, etc. and peer tutors are available in many other areas for only $5 per hour.

If you’re worried about the impact of a failing grade on your transcript, that’s a valid concern. One of the most compelling arguments in favour of dropping a course is that your transcript will indicate a “W” grade for withdrawal, rather than an “F.” Outside of the W being a far more glamorous and symmetric letter, a “W” grade will not adversely affect your GPA (Grade Point Average) whereas an “F” certainly will.

Let’s turn to what I learned from the experts — the academic advisors for a few different schools. Faith Wallis, academic advisor for the School of IT, advises that you should consider the impact of dropping a course on your academic standing and progression through your program. For example, if the course you drop is a pre-requisite for another course, you may find that you cannot proceed to the next level without it. The situation is compounded if the course you drop is only offered once a year, or if you’ve dropped or failed that course in the past.

Jennifer Gillespie, academic advisor for the School of Design, mentioned that dropping a course can have a detrimental impact on your funding. For instance, if dropping a course means that you move from full-time to part-time status, your OSAP funding may shift dramatically. In many cases, grants are converted to loans and in other cases, funding may be discontinued. An additional concern of moving to part-time status is that you will no longer qualify for Fanshawe residence. Jennifer also told me that when an accommodated student drops a course, they should inquire about the impact on their Tuition Cap.

Andy Wolovick, academic advisor for the Faculty of Technology noted that if the course you drop is required for co-op or placement, withdrawing could jeopardize your participation. If the course is required for a certification, as may be the case with some trades, withdrawing may delay the certification, which in turn may limit the types of work you can perform. Both situations may result in delayed graduation. Andy added that international students have another concern, as withdrawing from a course may impact a post-graduate work permit.

Despite lost funding or delayed graduation, dropping a course may still be the right decision for you. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t drop any courses, but in a perfect world, relatives don’t get sick, our mental health is always rosy, and our favourite shows never end!

When priorities change or the stress and anxiety are overwhelming, dropping a course may be the right choice for you. A reduced workload often translates into reduced stress levels and more time in your day. The resulting positive impact on your mental health (and your schedule) will pay dividends both in terms of success in your remaining courses and your life outside of college.

When the decision to drop a course is reached, Faith (in the School of IT) helps her students by creating a progression plan. This plan provides a clear road map to graduation. The progression plan reminds me of the “avoid toll roads” map on your GPS. Just because you aren’t following the prescribed path, doesn’t mean that you’re left to navigate the path on your own.

I can’t close without addressing how you can respond to a question about a “W” on your transcript during an interview. My advice would be the same for any situation that contains an unpleasant element — focus on the positive and relate to the employer. Remember that a withdrawal isn’t an admission of weakness or inadequacy, so help the interviewer to reframe what it does mean.

Consider sharing that you maintain a high standard for yourself and that dropping one course allowed you to achieve higher grades in the rest of your classes. Or maybe it’s more accurate to proclaim that you made a difficult decision in order to meet your other goals.

You can add that it’s your habit to regularly review your priorities to ensure that you always focus on the highest priorities first. By remaining positive, the interviewer will leave with the impression that you’re an effective time manager!

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.