March 12, 2015

Deadlines: Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should

When I was a child, my family would take a trip from New Jersey to the New York City Post Office every April 15 to mail our tax returns. My brother and I looked forward to this annual midnight run and assumed it necessary for filing taxes. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that April 15 wasn’t the ONLY day to file taxes, and that the midnight service of the NYC Post Office was necessary only for families, like mine, who waited until the very last minute in a pre-internet world.

Students approach add/drop, withdrawing, and other deadlines much the same way my dad filed our taxes: they wait until the last possible minute. Just last week, I met a student who has two Ws on his transcript for two different semesters because he dropped a class just after midnight. Twice. In consecutive semesters. In both instances, his defense was that his computer’s clock is inaccurate. In both instances, making the decision earlier than 30 seconds before (or after) the deadline would have saved him a lot of annoyance (And luckily the W is simply an annoyance – see our posts here and here).

The term ‘deadline’ originated during the Civil War: "On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a dead-line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot."1

That’s pretty clear, but let’s break it down one more time:
On one side: live prisoner. On the other side: dead prisoner.
Given the rather violent and stark origins of the word, you might assume that we would give deadlines a wide berth, and yet human nature (and student actions) are often quite the opposite. We love to inch ever-closer to that last second before the door shuts.

Dan Regan for Hallmark
There’s no rule that students can ONLY drop a course on the last day to drop, yet many wait until the last minute. This is exactly why the last day to add a class is always after the last day to drop a class during add/drop: we know that many students wait until that very last day to drop a class…even though it’s been on their to-do list for days. Giving students one more day to add means that some lucky student will finally snag a space in a coveted course…once their procrastinating classmate finally decides to drop on the deadline day.

It’s important to know deadlines, but it’s equally important to know that waiting can lead to unexpected problems, and a deadline isn’t a license to procrastinate. 

One upcoming deadline is a great example: March 23 is the last day to withdraw from a class. Students need to remain enrolled in at least 12 active credits at all times. If you want to withdraw from a class but you would drop below 12 credits, then you would need to add mini courses to remain full-time.
Sad story: Most mini courses are closed long before that deadline, and most start right before Spring Break. Thus, even though the deadline to withdraw is March 23, for many students, withdrawing from a course gets harder the longer they wait to act.
Side note: another great reason to withdraw down from 18 to 14 credits, etc. is to re-invest that found time in your other courses to raise your grades. The later you wait, the longer you’ve been spread thin.

We know when midterm grades get posted in the major math and science courses because the student traffic in our office increases dramatically about 80 minutes later. So…the minute you have the thought, “I wonder if I should withdraw from this class?” come to an Advising Center and discuss your options with the reference dean. Right away.

Don’t wait, or you might find yourself on the wrong side of that dead-line.

1 The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 2, Volume 7, page 137.