What to ask (and why) when a student comes to you with a course withdrawal form
New Paltz allows students to withdraw from courses between the 3rd and 9th weeks of every semester (the exact dates are listed in the academic calendar). During this period, when a student decides to drop a course from his or her schedule, the student needs to complete a form and pay a $20 fee. The course remains on the transcript, but a "W" is listed rather than a letter grade. The form requires the signature of the instructor and, in the case of undergraduates, the signature of the advisor. We require these signatures in order to make sure the student is making an informed choice. What questions then, might you ask a student who comes to you with a course withdrawal form?
Instructors can help students think about how they are doing in the course. Does the student have a realistic picture of how he or she is doing? Is it possible to improve the grade before the end of the semester? What resources might the student seek out to improve the grade?
Advisors need to ask students about the impact the withdrawal might have on their student status and progress towards degree. Will the student fall below full-time status (12 credits) after the course is dropped? (Students receiving financial aid who drop below 12 credits should first check with the Financial Aid Office. International Students on an F-1 visa should first check with the International Student Advisor in the Center for International Programs). Is the course only offered once a year, or at irregular intervals, or can the student take the course in a subsequent semester? Does the student need the course for graduation or as a condition for entrance into a program? How many times has the student attempted the course? (Students may now attempt a course only twice and a course withdrawal counts as one of those attempts). Will the student need to "make-up" credits in the summer (this is possible, but prior approval is required, and there are limitations) or take heavier loads in other semesters in order to graduate in the typical four-year time-frame (average of 15 credits needed per semester to graduate in 4 years)? Is the student an international student? (International students should consult with the International Student Advisor before withdrawing from a course to ensure the action will not affect their visa status.)
Withdrawing from a course is often the appropriate action for students, but they do need to keep the above issues in mind when making the decision. And sometimes, having the conversation can be as important and helpful to the student's overall development as is the final decision.
Depending on the circumstances, another good option might be to elect the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory Option. Students may elect the S/U option for up to four credits per semester and up to twelve credits during their undergraduate career at New Paltz. A student must submit the form to Records and Registration by the deadline (normally one week after the withdrawal deadline; check the academic calendar for the exact date each semester). While a course is under the S/U grading option, it may not be used to satisfy general education requirements, major or minor requirements, or the writing intensive requirement. Students may, however, re-elect the letter grade option for a course up until the point of graduation. Because faculty members are not aware that a student is taking a course under the S/U option, they submit the letter grade earned by the student to the Records office. The 4 credit per semester/12 credit per undergraduate career S/U limit holds whether the student retains the S/U option or reselects the letter grade. Students may not elect the S/U option for Composition 1 or 2, Honors English 1 or 2, Independent Study courses or Graduate courses.
The S/U grading option enables students who are unsure of their performance in a course, or subject to other constraints, to persist throughout the semester rather than withdraw. This can be particularly helpful for students on academic probation, who are able to elect this option.