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Should I Stay or Should I Go: How Do I Know If I Should Drop a Course?

Written by Rebecca Tunney
Should I drop a course?

This article was originally published in 2016. If you want to drop a course, make sure to check your individual school’s website to get the information you need on important dates, the process of dropping, and how it could impact your grades.

I was sitting in my osteology lab the other day, minding my own business, when one of my classmates turned to me and asked, “Hey, Rebecca, did you do the chemistry lab report?”

I turned to him and hesitated, smiling sheepishly. Alarm bells rang in my head as I briefly considering lying before opting for the truth.

“I, uh, dropped chem.”

I braced myself for a look of judgment. Even though I barely knew the guy, would he think less of me because of my choice? But then I wondered: why should I be so ashamed of dropping a course that’s causing me so much stress, anyway? I know that many students have this same fear of judgment from their peers, but… why?

There seems to be this idea floating around that we need to take the maximum number of courses possible in order to be “good students.” Some parents even pressure their kids to suck it up and stay in a course, despite the stress and struggle that comes along with it. It’s the modern belief that students are supposed to be stressed and that it’s completely normal to be overwhelmed by school. Right?


Nobody said school was going to be easy (and it’s certainly not). But that doesn’t mean you need to push yourself past your limits in order to be considered a hard worker. A moderate amount of stress can be motivating, but when a class is stressing you out to a breaking point, it can harm your GPA, your relationships, and your physical and mental health.

I’m not saying that you should drop a course as soon as you feel some kind of pressure—if we all did that, we’d have no classes left by midterms. Dropping a course is usually a last resort, but when nothing else has worked and the odds are stacked against you, there’s nothing wrong with letting go.

To Drop a Course or Not to Drop…

Stress management differs from person to person. At a very basic level, if a course is adding a lot of unnecessary stress to your life, it’s a possible drop candidate. When making your decision, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you too far behind on the homework to catch up?
  • Do you have a hard time understanding your professor, or don’t like how they teach?
  • Did you get a poor mark on a heavily-weighted assignment, and there’s no way for you to make up for it?
  • Are your other courses like whiney babies that require nearly all of your attention?
  • Have you changed your study habits to accommodate this course (and if so, did that work)?
  • Do you need the class in order to graduate?
  • Does the idea of dropping it sound better and better with every damn passing day?
  • Are you past your school’s date to drop a course?

What if You Choose to Stay in the Course?

On the flip side, staying in a course you’re not fond of isn’t the end of the world. If you’re confident that you can handle it, then I encourage you to do so. You might be exhausted by the end of term, but also happy and proud of your perseverance. Just prepare to work your ass off a little extra.

If you’re not ready to handle a certain course, however, your GPA (and academic career) can suffer. For example, when I asked one friend if he ever dropped a university course, he said, “No, but I should have. I failed two classes in my second year. Then I had to retake them to get the F’s off of my record. Dropping courses would have saved me from having to redo them.”

“I failed two classes in my second year. Then I had to retake them to get the F’s off of my record.”

In some cases, choosing to keep a demanding course can cause poor grades in other courses. In very extreme cases, the stress of a difficult course load can cause actual hospitalization. I know people who have been in those situations and it should never, ever come to that.

What If I Need a Stressful Course for My Degree?

Well, my friend, you have a couple of options:

Take it during the summer: you’ll have more time for it, fewer distractions, and opportunities to study in the great outdoors (safety permitting).

Try the course again next year: maybe your next set of courses won’t be so demanding, or maybe you’ll get a different professor.

Change programs: if you’ve tried every trick in the book—spoken to academic advisors, taken the course at a different time, picked up a tutor—and you’re still not getting the desired results, it might be time to look into adjacent fields without this course.

Whether or not you decide to drop a course, make sure you have a game plan. If you drop it, will you be trying it again or will you replace it with another course? If you decide to stick with it, how are you going to balance it and your other responsibilities? Consider all angles.

After all that, remember: dropping a course does not make you a bad student. It does not make you weak, and it does not make you stupid.

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.