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Don’t Conveniently DROP Into Academic Limbo

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Deciding to go to college is a huge decision for many. Continuing college may be an even bigger decision after you’ve tried a course or two. Perhaps you’ve experienced major changes in your life. Maybe you’re reconsidering your major or you just found the class too challenging. This is normal. In fact, I can’t think of many people who haven’t questioned whether a certain college, degree, or career-path is right for them.

Nearly all colleges (online or bricks-and-mortar) offer a drop deadline within a few weeks after classes begin. Sometimes it becomes a ticking clock in the back of your mind. And when a student experiences a setback in a class or in his or her personal life, we can jump to the conclusion that dropping is the best alternative. It’s okay to drop, but just remember, you’re putting yourself back to square one after already investing time and energy into your degree.

For some, like our men and women in the military, they have no choice when they face redeployment. And for others who have lost their job or have to take on other life responsibilities, school will naturally just have to wait.

But, if you’re in the camp of simply being unsure, just remember that your time is extremely valuable and when you drop, you’re essentially deferring to a later date. So, don’t make the decision lightly or as a matter of convenience. It doesn’t take an official study to know that from a psychological perspective, it’s even more challenging to start over than if you were to have not enrolled at all. Also, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Cost of Dropping Out,” excessive class dropping comes at both a personal and societal cost, even if you’re getting reimbursed.

Avoid Academic Limbo 

If you’re dropping because of convenience, you risk entering academic limbo. It’s the state of intending to finish your degree and developing your career, but time keeps marching on without real results. During my undergraduate years, sometimes I would come into a semester feeling over-eager and would get an exemption to take 18 or even 21 hours. By trying to do too much, I encountered highly challenging courses that stressed my ability to perform at a high level in my other core courses, and not to mention it limited my time for work and fun. So, I would drop a few classes and I’d be fine. However, toward the end of my undergrad career, I made a change in major, but because I dropped a bunch of classes early on, I had to make some core courses up later. There’s nothing less exciting in college (besides a bad hangover) than back-loading a bunch of makeup courses that could have been completed a few years prior. So rather than drop classes altogether, go at a comfortable pace. It may actually get you to the finish line faster and with less stress. 

Seek Advice Before Dropping   

Feeling like you may have to drop is by no means a fun experience. You may feel overwhelmed or academically underwater. You’re not alone and the good news is that the university has advisors who listen and truly want to see you do well. That’s their job. And best of all, they have resources that may actually help you continue on successfully. When it comes to dropping, there’s no right or wrong answer, but without a doubt, you should make the most of the many advising resources that are available to help you.

[Get more of your advising questions answered through our “Ask an Advisor” section.]

After you’ve gained all the information you can, and it makes senses for your situation, toss the ticking clock and work through the problem. With many online classes typically only lasting eight weeks (unlike traditional semesters that last four months), you might just get through your classes before you know it. You may end up having better clarity after you’ve completed your courses, than when you’re facing adversity and up against the drop deadline. The point is that there’s light at the end of the tunnel no matter what decision you make. Just don’t make your decision without knowing all of the facts and resources that are available to you at no cost.

By J. Thompson
Online Learning Tips Staff

J. Thompson is the Vice President of the Content team at American Public University. He earned an M.F.A in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and performed his undergraduate studies in English literature, political science and business management between the University of New Mexico and East Carolina University. His career insights draw upon experience as a communications vice president supporting learning management, applicant tracking, and talent and leadership development for Bank of America and other Fortune 500 firms.

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