Go All-In or Fold? How to Decide If You Should Drop a Class

You just got settled in, but the looming shadow of stress is already in your peripheral vision. The question dawns upon you: ‘Do I need to drop a class?’

FindSpark - Deciding whether to drop a class can be hard!

Photo courtesy of Stavros Sahtouris

Before you make any rash decisions, here are some helpful things to think about:

Understand how you work best

If you’re anything like me, everyone around you looks a little bit uncomfortable when you tell them how many classes you’re taking. The answer is: a lot. While my schedule usually sounded stressful to other people, I’ve always been better at organizing my time when I had less of it. I’ve personally regretted dropping a senior seminar even though taking it would’ve put me 1.5 classes above my school’s limit.

To me, more time always equals more time to procrastinate. However, maybe you work better under less of a crunch. One of my best friends in school frequently took the minimum credit-load permitted by our college, and the last thing she did it out of was laziness. In fact, her attention to detail and eagerness to delve deeply into the subject of her classes was only possible due to her less strenuous course-load. Figure out what works best for you.

Talk to upperclassmen

Ask classmates or upperclassmen about the class you’re thinking of dropping. Talking to your peers is a great way to get opinions of professors and a realistic gage of the grading policies and workload you’re looking at. A lot of the time a class that might look daunting can wind up being manageable, and vice-versa.

Talking to someone who had a great experience can make you more passionate about taking a class you were wishy-washy about. On the other hand, having this conversation might save you from taking a watercolor course that made a Studio Art major never want to paint again. Just sayin’. If most people you know haven’t taken classes in that particular department, try to find the head of their majors committee or an academic intern.

Talk to professors

It can be scary to talk to a professor about dropping his or her class, but, if you’re legitimately interested in the course and like the professor, choosing to take this step will most likely work in your favor (whether you decide to drop it or not!).

Remember, professors are an enormously underutilized college resource, and taking the time to ask them their opinion will show them you (1) take your commitment to their class seriously and, (2) are passionate about their area of expertise.

If you choose to stay enrolled, having even a morsel of an out-of-class relationship with your professor is beneficial — not only will they ‘know who you are’ and be more likely to offer advice on assignments, but they also might be more lenient should you need an extended due-date.

If you drop, but choose to take another one of their classes later on, the professor will probably (even if vaguely) remember you. The main takeaway from this boils down to the simple fact that having a good relationship with a professor far outweighs having none at all. Granted, this may only work in a smaller liberal-arts environment, but is nonetheless a great tool to keep in mind.

FindSpark - Get the full picture. Wouldn't want to drop a class that goes outdoors in the spring!

Photo courtesy of EAWB

What will you be doing outside of class?

Don’t forget to keep extracurriculars in mind, and cross-check them with due-dates. Have a class trip on the opening night of the play you’re in? Need to write a 20 page paper the same weekend you’re going on tour with your a cappella group? While some things can be worked out, others not so much.

Make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. If you’re on a liberal arts track, keep in mind that your education is designed to encourage you to pursue activities outside the classroom. Balance is important!

Alternatives to dropping

One thing to consider before completely dropping is whether you’d get everything you’d like from the class simply by auditing it instead. Not all professors are cool with this, so you should definitely ask (and figure out any weird policies they might have), but auditing is a great way to essentially take a class except in a 100% stress-free way. You go to as many classes as you want, do as much of the reading as you care to do, participate in discussions only if you really want to — and, most importantly, have no extra papers to write during finals week.

Trust me, auditing is a super nerdy but great thing to do if it’s a class you’re legitimately interested in but might not have time for. Someone’s paying for your education, so might as well get the most out of it, amirite?

Another thing to look into are your school’s pass/fail policies. Some liberal arts colleges offer encouragement for students looking for academic experience outside of their comfort zone. By electing to take a class pass/fail, students can enroll in a course they might not ordinarily feel comfortable with, without the fear that it will negatively impact their GPA. Policies vary from school to school, but are great alternatives to consider if you’re considering dropping a class that fits into this category.

If neither of these help your case, will this class be offered again? Maybe you can drop it now and talk to the professor about getting first dibs on it later.

Do you need to take this class?

The last but perhaps most important thing to think about is whether the course you’re considering dropping is a requirement for you. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, will this course be offered again? When? Will a different professor be teaching this class then? Would it make more sense to take this class now or later?

If it is, indeed, a required course, certain logistical questions should be approached with the help of an academic advisor from your particular department (I personally know of people whose dreams of going abroad were foiled due to bizarre scheduling conflicts with required classes — so watch it before you drop it!).

Do you have any other advice? Resources to suggest? Share in the comment section!

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