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Should You Drop A Class? How to Decide Whether to Stick It Out or Drop It

A new semester at school means a lot of things: new trends, new crushes and new classes. Unless the scheduling gods love you—and we’re jealous, if that’s the case—nobody’s course load is perfect. Usually, there’s that one class you just can’t stand. The monotone professor? The painfully dull readings? The grueling exams? We know–it’s all too familiar. With these unbearable courses, sometimes dropping a class is your only option. But where you should draw the line between a class you need to drop and a class worth charging through with a (forced) smile? Though everyone’s situation is different, HC’s advice will help you decide whether or not you should say au revoir to that class.

Situation 1: The textbooks were out of stock, so you’re already behind

assorted books on a library shelf
Photo by Jessica Ruscello from Unsplash
Your college’s bookstore can be both a blessing and a curse, but it’s definitely a curse when they suddenly run out of that mandatory textbook. How rude, right? Although you may feel as if you’re already behind, it’s no reason to drop a class. If you were to switch into a different class, wouldn’t you be a little behind too? Instead, ask a friend (or that cutie who sits next to you) if you could borrow their textbook. Worst case scenario, you stay in one night to catch up on all your work once you finally receive your textbook. Of course this isn’t ideal, but that ABC party seemed lame anyway.

Situation 2: The class is a higher-level course than you need and it’s way too hard

overhead view of a woman sitting in front of her laptop
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While it’s great to broaden your intellectual horizons, enrolling in a higher-level course is not always a good move. Although advanced classes have cooler topics—“Abnormal Psychology” sounds a lot more interesting than “Psychology 101”—there are some drawbacks. If the heightened difficulty isn’t enough to make you cringe, you’re going to feel a little left out when you’re the only person in class who doesn’t know the basics. “If your new psychology class actually requires a background knowledge in neuroscience, and you’re just looking for a 100-level course, save yourself the stress,” says Micha Sabovik, the assistant dean at Boston University’s College of Communication.

If you drop this type of class now, you might not have to face its evil academic consequences. “I accidentally took a class that was way above my level and it wasn’t remotely related to what I was interested in,” Andy Bensch from San Francisco State University says. “I withdrew from the class a few weeks later and it didn’t affect my GPA at all.”

Even if your advanced class sounds like a blast, consider taking a lower-level class instead. That way, you can enjoy the advanced class another semester once you’re finally prepared for it and won’t be so worried about keeping up.

Situation 3: The syllabus is so full of assignments that it almost looks like a textbook

Girl covering face with book
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That awkward moment when you pick up a copy of your class’s syllabus and you thought it was a massive reading assignment. Two essays, three quizzes and a midterm in the first half of the semester alone? Just the look of the syllabus makes you want to drop the class.

In this situation, it’s important to trust your instincts and know when enough is enough. “Gauging academic rigor when registering for a class can be difficult, but syllabus day generally provides a clear idea of what to expect,” Sabovik says, referring to the first day of class when the professor goes over the assignments for the semester. “It’s okay, and important, to acknowledge when you’re in over your head.” If this class is mandatory and wasn’t too hard to get into, try scheduling it with less demanding classes next semester instead.

Situation 4: You failed the first test

woman in a gray sweater taking notes on white paper
Anna Earl on Unsplash
It’s normal not to ace your first exam of the semester—you’re not used to your professor’s setup and you’d rather lounge out on the quad than study. But what about when you bomb a test so bad that you can’t recover? Alas, it may be time to pull the plug on this course. But before you do, make sure you try out all of your options. “You should always reach out to the professor or teaching assistant to see what you can do to improve before dropping the course,” Sabovik says.

However, if it seems like all hope is lost, it may be time to say adios to that class. Instead of damaging your GPA, take a lower-level class; usually, the workload is lighter and easier. If this horrid class is a requirement, try taking the course over the summer. “I had a really crazy workload and bombed one of my Cellular Biology tests because I had a couple other exams that day,” Lauren from Boston University says. “I decided to retake the class over the summer and I really liked it! Taking the class alone gave me a chance to get more out of the material and do better.” Though you may be wary about trading in your SPF 30 for textbooks, you can still have a fun summer if you’re only taking one class!

Situation 5: The professor is driving you crazy

Via Pexels
Whether it’s his constant pacing around the classroom or her lame jokes, there’s something about your professor that makes you want to say goodbye and good riddance to this class. Before you do anything drastic (aka dropping the course), let’s tap into your psyche to figure out why you don’t like this professor, shall we? Although you may despise their quirks or you heard that your roommate’s boyfriend’s best friend didn’t like the professor last semester, it’s time to take a deep breath, keep calm and carry on. “Don’t drop a class just because your professor didn’t receive glowing reviews on Rate My Professors,” Sabovik says.

However, some situations deem dropping a class necessary. If you can’t understand your professor or if he or she goes on random rants instead of teaching you the material, you may want to think about dropping. “I literally dropped my stats class because I couldn’t understand the professor’s thick accent,” Andy says. “She was harder to understand than Boris from James Bond.” If this class is mandatory, make sure you can take the same course with a different professor.

Situation 6: Your friends aren’t in the class

people sitting in chairs in a classroom viewed from behind
Sam Balye on Unsplash
Sounds pre-collegiate, right? However, some people do schedule their classes to correspond with their friends’. While sitting next to your BFF during Spanish sounds like fun, dropping a class just to be with your friends is kind of silly. Chances are you’ll be more focused without your friends showing you the latest Her Campus article during your lecture! Just because you’re taking a class by yourself doesn’t mean you have to rock the lone wolf status for long. Take this opportunity to make some new friends. Nothing’s better than having a new person to wave to on campus!

Situation 7: Your class is nothing like you expected

classrooom and students with a projector
NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Although getting into that British history class was like competing in The Hunger Games, you’re a little disappointed now that you’re enrolled. Maybe it’s because the class’s roster lacks Peeta Mellark’s name, or maybe it’s because you don’t get to learn about The Beatles; regardless, your eyes are glued to the clock every single class period. You’re tempted to drop this class and see if Mr. Mellark magically makes an appearance in a different class, but don’t kiss this course goodbye just yet. “You shouldn’t drop a class immediately because it doesn’t cover precisely what you were expecting,” Sabovik says. “You never know when a class will spark a new interest.” No class is perfect, so it’s important to make the best out of a less-than-amazing situation. Besides, your enviable romance with Peeta can wait until next semester.

So you decided to drop a class…now what? If the dropping debate isn’t confusing already, you do have some more options! And what student doesn’t have a love-hate relationship with options? Instead of dropping a class and calling it a day, talk to your professor and see what’s best for your situation.

Pass/Fail: Whether you’re overloading this semester or are dealing with personal issues, scoring that stellar GPA can be Mission Impossible. If you explain your situation to an academic advisor or professor, they may offer a pass/fail option. Translation? Instead of receiving a letter grade, you will either pass the course or fail it. Although you’ll still have to work for your grade, you can relax knowing that your C+ won’t jeopardize your grad school application.

Changing a class: While “Philosophy of Sports” is less-than-thrilling, maybe “Philosophy of Race and Ethnicity” will be more up your alley. If you’re not interested in the course’s specific subject, ask your professor if they have any other recommendations that still fill the requirement you need. You may end up still liking philosophy after all!

Auditing a class: Even though you’re an economics major, you’re secretly a movie buff. But between your part-time job and all your extracurriculars, you just don’t have the time to write a detailed film analysis. When you audit a class, you’re taking a class for pure enjoyment, not for credit. Huh? Auditing a class means that you don’t have to write papers or take exams. I know what you’re thinking—why can’t we audit all our classes? If you’re interested in auditing a class, talk to your academic adviser for more details, like if the class will show up on your transcript or not. Once you’ve decided to audit the class, stop by the course’s respective academic department to solidify your decision. Since you won’t receive any college credit, make sure you’re actually passionate about the subject, because you’re still required to attend each class.

Before you officially drop a class, it’s important to get a crash course in your school’s academic policies. Most schools have a deadline for dropping classes and anything after the school’s designated date is a “withdrawal fail,” which doesn’t look cute on your transcript. If you do decide to drop a class, you also need to make sure that you’re taking at least the minimum amount of classes to be a full-time student. Still confused? Talk to your academic adviser. In the meantime, you have some decisions to make!

Kelsey is a senior at Boston University, studying Magazine Journalism  in the College of Communication. As a magazine junkie and fashion fanatic, she loves being a part of the Her Campus team! At BU, Kelsey is president of Ed2010 at Boston University.  She has interned for Time Out New York, Lucky, Anthropologie, and Marie Claire. Kelsey also has a fashion blog, The Trendologist, where she covers the latest trends, fashion shows, and red carpet reports. When she isn't busy, Kelsey loves hanging out with her friends and family, shopping, reading style blogs, going for a nice jog, listening to music, creating baked goods in the kitchen, watching movies, and eating tons of frozen yogurt and sushi! After graduation, Kelsey hopes to work as an editor for a fashion magazine. Follow Kelsey on Twitter and Instagram at @kmulvs and don't  forget to check out her "Catwalk to Campus" blog posts!