Online Degree, Meet Life: When Dropping A Class Helps Your Plan of Study

Accelerated programs available. Finish your degree in as little as 18 months!

How many times have you heard something like that? Doesn’t that seem exciting?


Accelerated degree turtle

Sometimes slow and steady is the way to go.

Finishing an entire online degree program in less than two years is an impressive, and attractive, pitch to working adults.

What they don’t focus on is that students can graduate in “as little” as 18 months. While graduating in 18 months (or less) is technically possible if your plan of study allows it, life has a way of keeping us busy outside of class. Like it or not, dropping a class will at some point, probably be necessary.


Jobs, family, travel, illness, or injury can play a part in affecting our academic plan of study.

Though it may be tough to keep perspective, remember it’s not too late to scale things back mid-semester. And, there are worse things than dropping a class.


How to be a Tortoise, Not a Hare, When it Comes to Online Learning


1. Don’t Max Out Your Course Load, Just Because They Let You

When I started my first semester as an online student, I was ambitious to say the least.

I hoped to enroll for two classes at a time, and graduate with an information systems masters degree in less than 2 years. (The fact that I was already working both a full and part-time job seemed irrelevant in the face of being able to attain my degree so quickly.)

Reality quickly set in when I found that weekly quizzes, mandatory participation on class discussion boards, and group project work gobbled up nearly 2 hours a night per course.

My coffee pot was working overtime to keep up, and so was I.

I eventually learned a (painful) lesson: Just because a school says you can, doesn’t mean you should.

For the rest of my tenure in the masters program, I’d regularly follow a three-step process whenever I faced needing a change in pace. Dropping a class became less taboo when I found a way to evaluate my needs.


2. Revise Your Plan of Study and Allow For Easy Adds and Drops

Your “Plan of Study” is the class schedule that you’re planning to take in order to complete your degree. If you haven’t defined your plan yet, this is the best time to make one. Look at the course(s) that you plan to add/drop…if you’re dropping a class, when is the next time that you can take it?

If you want to add an extra course to this semester, which ones are available?

Often there are classes that are offered only during specific times of the year (ex. Fall, Spring, etc.) , so adding or dropping a class multiple times without affecting your graduation date may require some strategy.

Additional tip: Try creating both a “best-case” and “worse-case” Plan of Study, to determine the minimum and maximum number of semesters you may have before graduating, and see which path is closer to your comfort zone.


3.  Estimate The Cost of Dropping A Class or Other Changes

Whether you plan on increasing or decreasing your class-load, take into account the related costs before you plunge ahead with plan of study changes :

Vintage photo of woman examining booksConsider the costs of changing your plan of study carefully.

(LSE Library/flickr)


  • Scaling Up: If you’d like to add classes, are you confident that you’ve got the extra time? Will you have the funds (via student loans, savings, tuition reimbursement, etc.) for the additional tuition?
  • Scaling Down: If you’re dropping courses and scaling back for a semester or two, when will you be able to take the classes again? Are these courses prerequisites that have to be taken before you can move onto other classes?

    Will you get back any of your tuition if you drop? How could this impact your graduation date?


As you balance the costs of changing your plan, you may need to go back and revise your Plan of Study again.

Additional tip: If possible, drop a class that’s offered during multiple semesters, so you can catch up more easily.


4. Visit With Your Academic Adviser Before Changing Your Plan of Study

After coming up with a plan that you’re comfortable with, double-checking with your adviser can be helpful to make sure that you haven’t missed something.

It’s especially helpful if your adviser is one of the faculty, as they may have some insight on the difficulty level of the courses you’ve signed up for.

They might also know if one course won’t be offered in the future, and/or there may be a substitute course that you could take to fill a requirement.


Online Learning is Flexible, But Not Easy

One terrific advantage of online learning is that it’s much more flexible regarding when and where you do your classwork.

However, “flexible” doesn’t mean that it’s easy…the work still has to be done, and sometimes you need to scale your semesters up or down to fit what you can into your schedule.

As a distance learner, it’s essential to be able to scale your class-load up or down as your life allows, keeping you on track towards graduation.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Graduation

The path to graduation isn’t a race, and how quickly you get to the finish line isn’t as important as the fact that you finish. Regardless, the diploma will be there waiting for you.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have started with one class at a time. That’s what I eventually did, but it helped to learn that I had to adjust my semesters to fit the rest of my schedule.

Dropping a class is sometimes necessary, but the peace of mind you need to study will be worth it.

Written by:

Editor’s Note: If you have questions about online learning plans, check out Get Educated’s distance learning forums. And if you have tips for other online students and want to suggest a story or blog for us, contact Jess Wisloski

About David Handlos

In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.
This entry was posted in Online Classes. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Online Degree, Meet Life: When Dropping A Class Helps Your Plan of Study

  1. compare grad schools says:

    Hi David,

    In addition to your post I was wondering if for many adults today the opportunity to pursue a college degree immediately after high school is simply not an option. The reasons for this can vary greatly, from military service, work or financial obligations, family responsibilities, or to pursue other goals before buckling down to attend college. Some of us woke up one day to realize that we needed to obtain a degree in order to achieve professional or personal goals. In fact, career stagnation is reportedly one of the primary factors influencing a person’s decision to return to school.

    Catch you again soon!

  2. Jess Wisloski says:

    Excellent points, Shona. Please reach out if you are ever interested in contributing to our blog – I’m sure your experience in getting an online MBA would be useful to others. Thanks again!

  3. Shona says:

    Very sound advice David. I enrolled in my MBA program in the Fall of 2009, quite sure that I would all done sometime in 2011. Well I realized that in order to do so, I would have to take at least three classes all year long (I did end up enrolling for all Fall, Spring & Summer semesters…but sometimes with only 1 course at a time). I’ll also say that there are some courses that I just let get away from me, and when I realized that I wasn’t earning the grade that I feel I could have, I dropped the course. Depending on the circumstances of the drop, you will lose tuition and even have a “W” on your transcript in the end. But to me, you only go through your program once. It is best to set things up so that you get the most out of it that you can.

Online Education
Facebook Page Google Bookmarks Twitter YouTube
Find a Degree
Search our directory of over 3000 accredited online degrees!
By Subject
By Degree Level
By School
Search our Articles:
Home | Online Education Articles | Media Coverage | About Us | News Releases | Privacy | Terms of Use | Team Bios | History and Mission | Newsletter | Contact | Advertising