Withdrawing, dropping and auditing: what to do?

Story by Courtney ScobyStaff writer

Within a month, students will have to make some tough decisions regarding whether to audit, withdraw or stay put in difficult classes.  Nov. 12 is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of “W,” as well as the last day to make the decision to audit a course. 

Ben Stinnett, interim director of retention at Murray State, said that many students often get confused about the difference between auditing a class and withdrawing from a class. 

While withdrawing from a class completely eliminates the course from the student’s schedule, an audit, he tells students, “is kind of a placeholder.”

“An audit was designed so students would be seeing that material, so the next time they took that course, they would make higher in that course,” Stinnett said.

Auditing a course might also be a better option for a student who is concerned about the number of hours they are taking.

“An audit also allows students to, during the semester, not be dropping below full-time status,” Stinnett said.

This is especially a concern for students when financial aid comes into play.

“The main impact people need to be careful with, with audit and withdrawal, is the impact it can have on their financial aid,” Stinnett said. 

Oftentimes when students drop below full-time status, their financial aid is negatively impacted.  Stinnett recommends talking to representatives of the Financial Aid Office before making a final audit or withdrawal decision.

As an academic adviser to students, William Jones, associate professor of English, comes across these issues constantly, and says that it is impossible to prescribe one solution for all students.

“That’s a very individual call that varies according to each student,” he said.

When advising students who want to audit or withdraw from a class, there are several factors that Jones takes into consideration, such as how the student will be affected in terms of credit hours and how many audits and withdrawals a student already has on his or her transcript.

Stephen Lacewell, professor of finance, says that time is the most important factor when making a class audit or withdrawal decision.

“If a student is doing poorly in a class, but has the time to still attend the class, take the tests, etc. then they will have an advantage the next time they take the class,” he said.  “If a student simply is overloaded then it might be better for them to completely drop one class so that they can concentrate on their remaining classes.”

Auditing or withdrawing from a class may not be the best option for all students, though.  Oftentimes students are simply overwhelmed by the expectations of the college environment, especially for first-year students.

“About 80-82 percent of our students report they expect to make above a 3.0 in their first semester,” Stinnett said.  “We know that number at the end of the semester is actually about 54 percent.”  These numbers are drawn from data collected by the MapWorks Survey.

While auditing and withdrawing are two viable options, Jones said that students often end up making the decision too quickly.

“Students sometimes panic due to one or two bad marks early in the semester,” he said.  “Often, I have had students tell me they are withdrawing when 65 percent of their grade still remains in the final weeks of the course.”

For this reason, many professors have certain requirements for students who choose to audit their classes.

Lacewell includes a statement on all of his syllabi requiring students choosing the audit the course to complete all assignments, including quizzes and exams, and retain an average of at least 60 percent. 

“This is so a student doesn’t see an audit as just an easy way not to fail a class,” he said.

Other professors require only that a student attend all classes, or do not offer audits in their courses at all.

Another big way auditing or withdrawing from a course can affect a student is through their transcript.

“Constantly withdrawing or auditing classes may indicate that a student has trouble sticking with something when things get tough,” Lacewell said.

However, “A ‘W’ is not going to impact your GPA like an ‘E’ would,” Stinnett said.

Jones suggested that students “strive for a balance.”

Although it may seem like the most obvious solution, the most popular recommendation for students struggling with an audit or withdrawal decision is to ask for help.

“Talk to your professors early and often,” Jones said.  “Go to their office hours, talk to them about how you are doing in the course, and ask them, precisely, what you need to address in order to improve.”

Lacewell agreed with this sentiment.

“I am more than willing to put in extra time to help them understand the material and succeed in class,” he said.

If all else fails, the Retention Office is always there to help, too.

“If students really don’t know what their best options are, and they want to talk to somebody, we can just kind of walk them through, ‘Here’s all your options; here’s what we would best recommend for you,’” Stinnett said.  “I don’t want students to think they have to figure this all out by themselves.”