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Articles / Applying to College / Effect of "Withdrawal" on College Admission Decisions?

Sept. 18, 2010

Effect of "Withdrawal" on College Admission Decisions?

Question: I'm in 10th grade. How much will a W (Withdrawal) on a transcript hurt chances of getting into a college?

A "W" won't necessarily hurt you at all, but the key factor will be what's left on your schedule once you pull out of a class. For instance, let's say you're a biology buff and thus you decide to take both AP Bio and Environmental Science at the same time. But then you realize that you've bitten off more than you could chew. Dropping the Environmental Science won't hurt you. Dropping the AP Bio will be somewhat more significant since it's a "weighted" course which might affect your cumulative GPA and class rank. Even if your high school doesn't rank its students, your overall course load will be less demanding without this AP. The more selective colleges will probably notice this. Other colleges might not. And if you drop the only class you were taking in a major field (science, math, foreign language, etc.) then this will leave a visible void on your transcript. Dropping an elective such as psychology, yearbook, band, etc. wouldn't. In fact, if your schedule is full of rigorous major subjects, dropping an elective shouldn't have any effect on college outcomes.


Since you are still a sophomore, a Withdrawal of any sort will usually have less impact on college verdicts than it might in your junior or senior years. Admission folks especially don't like to see W's after a student has been admitted. I've known of seniors who got good news from top-choice colleges in the Early Decision or Early Action round and then decided to coast through the rest of the school year by dumping one or more of their more challenging classes. But Early acceptances are predicated on the student taking the same list of classes that appeared on the initial application. So a "W" after an early acceptance can be short for "Woe is me!" :(

But do keep in mind that, if you're stressed about your current course load but worried that dropping a class might torpedo college admission odds later on, you need to put your mental and physical health ahead of potential admission decisions.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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