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1.) Collect Documentation as Proof of Extenuating Circumstances

When you’ve realized that the event will keep you from your studies, collect as much documentation as you can of your extenuating circumstances.   Having to get physical evidence of the event might be an uncomfortable topic, but school administration unfortunately needs proof that you unable to continue with the coursework. Depending on the situation, this may include medical reports from a doctor in the case of a health problem, orders from a superior officer in the case of a military deployment, or an obituary notice in the case of a death in the family.  


2.) Contact Your Academic Adviser

If you think it’s necessary to drop courses and/or suspend your semester, talk to your adviser.   They can help verify if you have enough documentation to petition for a retroactive withdrawal.   Since your Plan of Study may have to change significantly, they can help plan on how to return to your studies once you’re ready to move forward.  


3.) Contact Your Professor(s)

Many schools require the instructor’s permission before a retroactive drop can be made, so get in touch with your professor(s). Be honest about your situation. They may be able to offer you additional options that would not involve withdrawing and taking the class again.   In my case, I did drop some of my courses, but teachers in the other classes provided assistance like extended deadlines. That gave me time to complete the work by the end of the semester.  

Extended deadlines and sensible accommodations were a huge help. (I was well over halfway through the spring semester at that point.)   Without their help, I would have had to take every class over again.   Additional tip: If you’re working on any group projects in a class, get in touch with those students as well, and let them know what’s going on. Share whatever notes/ideas you were working on for the project. Do NOT just drop the class without telling them. If you’re planning to resume your studies soon, these people may be your classmates again, and if they’re paired with you in another project (trust me, it can happen), they might not be as cooperative with you this time around.


4.) Contact the College’s Administration Office

Some schools will need the permission of an assistant dean (or higher) in order to drop a course retroactively, and have it removed from your transcript.   Others may make these decisions by committee. Regardless, the administration office will direct you to the people you need to get in touch with. Bring them all of your documentation, and any signed forms that your instructors and advisor may have given you. A retroactive withdrawal is granted to students sparingly, so double-check with the office if there is anything else they would need to help in their decision.   If you do need to put a hold on your studies to deal with an unexpected situation, a retroactive drop can help you wrap up your semester until you’re ready to start again.



Should My College Student Withdraw From College?

Your college student headed off to college with high hopes and aspirations.  He may have given it his best effort and something interfered, or he may not have understood what was going to be required.  Or it is possible that something totally unexpected has interrupted your student’s momentum.  Whatever the reason, it is possible that your student is now struggling and wondering what to do next.

Your student may be considering withdrawing from college – not at the end of a semester, but now, part way into a term.  You may be wondering whether he has options, and whether the choice to withdraw is the best decision.  It is not an easy question to answer.  You and your student should have some frank talk about his reasons and about the implications of his decisions.  We’d like to give you some food for thought – and for discussion.  You and your student will need to consider his reasons for wanting to withdraw (or your reasons for wanting him to withdraw), some pros and some cons, and finally, some important things you’ll need to investigate and consider.

Why should your student withdraw?

There are many reasons that a student may need to consider withdrawing in mid term.  Your student may have simply discovered that this is not where she wants to be and that she needs a break from college, needs to be closer to home, or needs to be at a larger or smaller school.  Your student may discover that she isn’t ready for college – either academically or emotionally.  She may feel that she needs a break from school entirely for a while.  Something may have occurred in your student’s life that is preventing her from being able to focus on school – an illness, an illness or death of a family member, or some other life occurrence over which she has no control.  Your student may need to consider a medical withdrawal for physical or psychological reasons.  Your student or your family may have encountered financial difficulties.

There are many reasons – valid reasons – why some students find that continuing, even for a few weeks to complete the semester, is not an option that they feel they can consider.  You’ll need to talk to your student about her reasons for wanting to leave school.

Are there advantages to withdrawing from school now?

For some students withdrawing before the end of the term may be the best solution.  If your student simply feels that he cannot continue, is too overwhelmed to stay at school, is not attending class or participating at school, leaving may be the best solution.  Although policies differ at different institutions, if your student withdraws from school before the end of the term, his transcript may reflect “W” for withdraw rather than F’s for failure.  This may make readmission or transfer to another institution easier.  Also depending on school policy, and the timing of your student’s withdrawal, it is possible that some portion of tuition may be refunded.

Are there disadvantages to withdrawing mid-term?

Although there are some good reasons to leave during a term, there are also some disadvantages.  Your student will leave without having earned any college credit for the term.  You may receive some portion of tuition money back, or you may not, but your student will have earned nothing.  If your student can complete the semester, he will at least leave with some college credits to transfer to another institution or to have on his transcript when he returns.  If your student can remain for a few weeks, and can accomplish decent grades, he may want to complete at least some college credit.  You also want to help your student be very sure that whatever he is feeling is not temporary.  The mid-semester time is often a difficult and stressful time for many students.  Help your student try to determine whether it is possible that he may feel differently in a few days or weeks.  Don’t waste the semester if things might get better soon.    You and your student will also need to investigate financial aid implications of leaving during a term.  It is possible that he will need to repay any aid that he has received.

What should we consider before my student makes a decision?

Before your student makes her final decision, she will need to talk to some people at the school and both you and she will need to gather information.

It is important that your student leave school with a plan if at all possible.  She needs to think about what she will do next.  Will she return home?  Will she need to get a job right away?  Does she plan to return to school or transfer to another school?  What will she do in the meantime?  Withdrawing from school does not indicate failure, but your student may feel as though she has failed if she does not have a plan.  Help her decide what is next.

Your student should ask the college some important questions:

Is there a deadline for withdrawing from the college?
Is it possible to get any tuition refund?
Is any housing money refundable?  Was the housing contract for the semester or the entire year?
Will any financial aid need to be repaid?  Is there a grace period?
When will repayment on loans/aid begin?
Is there any possibility of finishing any coursework remotely from home?
Will it be possible to be readmitted later?
Are there any other options – such as a Leave of Absence or Personal Leave?

For some students, leaving school quickly or immediately is the only option – or at least the best option.  You and your student will need to decide whether leaving or finishing is in your student’s best interest.  You will need to talk openly and frankly about the issues.   Consult with someone at the college to be sure that you have accurate information about options and implications.  Help your student understand – and believe – that there may be many paths toward his ultimate goals.