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The Scarlet Letter


Who? What? Where? When? Why? Or how about “win?”

Actually, that “W” on a student’s transcript refers to a “withdrawal,” and Drake University students have until Monday, Jan. 31 to drop a class without the letter appearing on their records.

Far from Hester’s scandalous stitched initial, a “W” is supposed to serve as a neutral indication that a student registered for a class, but for one reason or another withdrew after the cutoff date.

The explanations for withdrawing can take far more than a single letter to describe. But it would be hard to fit, “This course ended up being completely different from what I thought it would be, and I didn’t want to spend valuable time on work that didn’t relate to my professional development” on a transcript.

A withdrawal does not factor into a grade point average, and as long as they’re not a regular occurrence, students shouldn’t get overly concerned, says Kevin Moenkhaus from Drake’s Office of Student Records.

“A ‘W’ is a mark of the transcript that simply means a student withdrew from the course,” he said. “It just says a student was here, but didn’t complete the class.”

It certainly hasn’t been a source of distress for Drake 2010 graduate Greg Wolf. He’s now getting his master’s degree in accounting at Washington State University, and says he was never questioned about dropping a marketing class during the application process to graduate school.

“It definitely hasn’t came back to give me any problems,” he said.

Many students, such as Wolf, drop a class after realizing a few weeks into the course that they’re not going to earn the kind of grade they originally hoped for.

“Essentially what happened is, I signed up for a lot of classes first semester because I was basically trying to make second semester easier with only 12 credits,” Wolf explains. “I bombed the first quiz, so I dropped it and took the ‘W.’”

He retook the class during the spring and ended up doing much better than he says he would have had he stayed in the class.
Sophomore business student Erikray Minturn tells a similar story.
He dropped Accounting 041 last semester, but now that he’s retaking it with a different schedule, he says he feels much more confident in the grade he’ll earn.

“I just didn’t have the will to study for it, so I stopped going to class,” he said. But this semester is different. “I have more drive to actually study… I already got a tutor, just in case.”

Wolf and Minturn also point out that they each have only one “W,” something Drake Law School’s Kara Blanchard says is an important point.

“An infrequent ‘W’ on a transcript will not negatively impact a student’s chances of admission,” she writes in an e-mail to The Times-Delphic. “However, numerous withdrawals can raise a red flag.”

One of the reasons for this, Moenkhaus says, is that even if the mark is not a representation of the student’s performance in the course, too many of them can cause disruptions in financial assistance.

“Although we consider a ‘W’ mark to be non-punitive, repeated instances could potentially impact a student’s financial aid in extreme cases where students do not make satisfactory progress toward their degree,” he says.

As long as the course is dropped within the official add/drop period, Drake policy states that students may shift from full-time to part-time status or reduce their credit hour enrollment (with the exception of a complete withdrawal from the university) without penalty.

However, after the first two weeks of the semester, this same switch does not result in any change in tuition charges. This means that even if a person has become a part-time student in terms of credit, tuition-wise he or she is paying full price.

In the long run, accepting a ‘W’ now could mean being able to retake later on for an ‘A.’ And unlike Miss Prynne, that’s exactly the letter most students are seeking.


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