It's the beginning of February, and while high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors are bearing down, first semester is over and the pressure is off for seniors. Seniors who applied Early Decision (binding) or Early Action (nonbinding) already have heard from colleges and, if they've been accepted, they have the false impression that they can kick back and relax.
Some seniors ease off their homework so much that they think they'd be better off dropping a course than staying with it through the end of the year. It's around this time when I start receiving panicked calls from parents asking about the consequences of a senior dropping a class midyear. The student reasoning usually goes like this: "Colleges won't see my final grades until the summer and I will have already made my deposit, selected my housing option and maybe even gone for orientation. I don't think they really care about me dropping a course." Very little could be further from the truth.
Although it's true that the colleges won't see the grades until the summer, a dropped course is likely to raise a red flag and need to be explained. For this reason, and others, guidance counselors are loath to approve dropping a course. Some schools even go so far as to require parents and students to sign a document that acknowledges the risk they face with college admissions.
While some students may suggest substituting an online course to take the place of the one they want to drop at school, it is still likely to raise eyebrows at a college admissions office. Dropping a course midyear is usually related to performance, or more accurately, underperformance. There is little wiggle room for students other than facing the consequences or working harder to improve the grade. They still have plenty of time to boost their final grade.
Dropping a course is not worth the risk. Colleges make their decisions in part based on a student's senior year schedule. They look at the transcript as an indicator of a student's performance in college. Colleges also believe that students who lighten their course load have an unfair advantage over students taking a full load. Admission offers have been revoked because colleges view a dropped course almost as a bait-and-switch routine. Students who sign up for a rigorous course can expect colleges to acknowledge that they plan to challenge themselves senior year. If they then drop the course, they are sending colleges a mixed message.
What should you do if you want to drop a course?
Contact the college where you've already been accepted or hope to be accepted and ask whether dropping a course would jeopardize your admission. The likely response will be that your offer of admission will need to be reconsidered due to the change. You have to ask yourself if this is a risk worth taking.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.