The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

When Life Goes Bonkers, Withdrawing from College with a Full Refund and a Healthy GPA

Editor’s Note: When life takes a nasty turn, and interrupts your college plans, consult this piece from David, our wise student blogger, to learn the secrets for withdrawing from college with a full refund and a healthy GPA.  


No matter how well you plan your schedule and manage your time, a major life event could abruptly cause you to drop a class, withdrawal for the entire semester, or to even consider withdrawing from college altogether. Medical problems, death of a loved one, military deployment…no one can be expected to factor these kind of life events into a study plan.   I found that out myself when I was studying for my bachelor’s degree at Kansas State University. More than halfway into the spring semester of 2002, I had a sports accident that limited my mobility for several months. It prevented me from attending class, or even doing most of my coursework for weeks. I was afraid that the entire semester was going to be a loss, and began to worry that I might even consider withdrawing from college!   Fortunately, my alma mater had a policy for “retroactive withdrawals”, that took these kind of extenuating circumstances into account.   Since I wasn’t able to continue with my full load of courses, the faculty worked with me to continue with some of the courses that I could realistically complete.   They helped me to perform a “retroactive withdrawal” from the others. This way, I could drop the class without having a “W” for my dropped classes.   The tuition for each course was fully reimbursed.   Here are the top things you should do if you need to proceed with a retroactive withdrawal:  


1.) Collect Documentation as Proof of Extenuating Circumstances

When you’ve realized that the event will keep you from your studies, collect as much documentation as you can of your extenuating circumstances.   Having to get physical evidence of the event might be an uncomfortable topic, but school administration unfortunately needs proof that you unable to continue with the coursework. Depending on the situation, this may include medical reports from a doctor in the case of a health problem, orders from a superior officer in the case of a military deployment, or an obituary notice in the case of a death in the family.  


2.) Contact Your Academic Adviser

If you think it’s necessary to drop courses and/or suspend your semester, talk to your adviser.   They can help verify if you have enough documentation to petition for a retroactive withdrawal.   Since your Plan of Study may have to change significantly, they can help plan on how to return to your studies once you’re ready to move forward.  


3.) Contact Your Professor(s)

Many schools require the instructor’s permission before a retroactive drop can be made, so get in touch with your professor(s). Be honest about your situation. They may be able to offer you additional options that would not involve withdrawing and taking the class again.   In my case, I did drop some of my courses, but teachers in the other classes provided assistance like extended deadlines. That gave me time to complete the work by the end of the semester.  

Extended deadlines and sensible accommodations were a huge help. (I was well over halfway through the spring semester at that point.)   Without their help, I would have had to take every class over again.   Additional tip: If you’re working on any group projects in a class, get in touch with those students as well, and let them know what’s going on. Share whatever notes/ideas you were working on for the project. Do NOT just drop the class without telling them. If you’re planning to resume your studies soon, these people may be your classmates again, and if they’re paired with you in another project (trust me, it can happen), they might not be as cooperative with you this time around.


4.) Contact the College’s Administration Office

Some schools will need the permission of an assistant dean (or higher) in order to drop a course retroactively, and have it removed from your transcript.   Others may make these decisions by committee. Regardless, the administration office will direct you to the people you need to get in touch with. Bring them all of your documentation, and any signed forms that your instructors and advisor may have given you. A retroactive withdrawal is granted to students sparingly, so double-check with the office if there is anything else they would need to help in their decision.   If you do need to put a hold on your studies to deal with an unexpected situation, a retroactive drop can help you wrap up your semester until you’re ready to start again.



About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, 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.