September 21, 2012

The Woeful Tale of the W: What does it all mean?

Ask undergrads about a Withdrawal on a transcript and you get a cacophony of horror stories, half-truths, misunderstandings and scare tactics.  

Let's clear the air by first setting straight what the W does NOT stand for:
Worst Thing EVER!
“That means you were failing the class!” “Maybe I should take the F instead of the W?!”
WHOA, now you have to rethink ALL of your goals!
           “OMG, you’ll never get into Med school!”
Warning, this student is a loose cannon!
           "If you withdraw from a class it shows that you can't handle it."

Here are some TRUTHS with a capital T:
When:  A W is applied to the transcript when a student drops a class after add/drop but before the final withdrawal period of the semester.  It does not go into the GPA.
No graduate programs (law schools, med schools, etc) use the W when they are evaluating your record.
No employers use the W to evaluate you when they are hiring.
Why do student drop courses?
They are no longer interested in the subject
They got a new opportunity (job, internship) and want to free up more time in their schedule
They don’t like the professor
The professor doesn’t like them
They need more time to focus on life or family or financial issues
They get into a class that they like better but it’s late in the add/drop period
And sometimes…
They drop because they are struggling in the class

Okay, so then..
What purpose does the W serve?
The university and departments need the W to track seats in classes and enrollment for an accurate review of class trends and sizes. For example, some classes fill quickly and are closed at the beginning of the semester. During the semester, students may drop the class (for lots of reasons – see above) and without the W, it would give a false impression that there was space available in that class. Departments base their plans for how many sections to run for each class on this information.

For more on the W, enjoy last year's Mythbuster post.