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What Does a W Grade Mean?

Updated: December 14, 2023 | Published: December 23, 2019

Updated: December 14, 2023

Published: December 23, 2019


In college, there is a grade unlike one you might have seen before. It’s called a “W” which stands for withdrawal. Having a W on transcript may or may not be a big deal. It all depends on a few factors, which we will get into later.

Many students have reason to take their college transcripts seriously. This is especially true if you plan to apply to graduate school as they will be a major factor in the admissions process. Additionally, having a high GPA could help boost your resume and separate you from the competition during a job application process.

However, in most cases, it is unlikely for a W to make or break your career. But there are still important things to consider before choosing to withdraw from a class. Let’s get deeper into what it means, your alternative options, and the potential consequences.

Student with stack of books in a pile

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What Does a W on Transcript Mean?

In most institutions of higher education, students can choose to drop a class before the add/drop deadline. If they instead stay enrolled and the deadline passes, they can still leave the class. However, this results in the W grade, or withdrawal.

Does It Matter? Things to Consider

1. Required Course?

The first and most important consideration to think of before withdrawing from a course is if it’s required for your major. There may be unforeseen circumstances that make withdrawing the most optimal solution. For example, if you have health circumstances or family issues that become a priority to your school, then taking the W is necessary. However, if the course is simply too hard or you don’t want to put in effort, then you should reconsider. Try getting a tutor or asking for help if the class is required for your major. This is because even if you drop it and get the W, you will have to take it again to graduate. The W grade will stay on your record.

2. How many is too many?

Every university has a different policy regarding how many Ws are too many. The best idea is to check your university’s policy online or ask a university counselor or academic advisor.

3. GPA?

A college GPA is calculated by assigning a number to each letter grade and dividing it by the total number of courses taken. What is considered to be a good college GPA can vary and is often dictated by the graduate school you may want to apply to after undergraduate studies. However, it’s good to know that a W will not factor into the numerical calculation for your grade. It will still appear on your transcript though.

Student getting help in college instead of withdrawing

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Alternatives to Withdrawing

Before choosing to withdraw from a course, think about your alternative first. While a W is not the worst thing that can happen during your college career, it still is unfavorable.

1. Will you fail if you don’t take the W?

Failing is more unfavorable than getting a W. A failing grade in college can definitely impact your GPA if the class is not taken on a “pass/no pass” basis. A letter grade of “F” provides you zero points for your GPA, but still counts as a class that is divided by the total points you earn. Therefore, it can cause your GPA to plummet.

2. If you don’t withdraw, how will your other courses and time be affected?

If you choose not to withdraw, will this course take up too much of your time and energy? If it’s going to take too much of a toll on you and affect your performance in your other classes, then the W grade may be worth accepting. It’s really a variable and subjective basis for everyone. However, if the course is required for your major, you are going to have to eventually take it.

3. Can you get help instead? More often than not, you can get more assistance in a course that gives you trouble.

Whether it is in the form of asking a peer for help, attending office hours, hiring a tutor, or using online resources, you can always overcome a challenging course.

How It Looks Later

Having a W on your transcript is not the best situation, but it’s also not the worst.

If you plan to apply to graduate school, and there is no pattern of Ws showing up, they might not hold it against you. More important that having a W is showing an improvement in your grades.

Additionally, schools will look at the difficulty of your coursework to gauge the acceptability of withdrawing.

If you withdraw from a course because of an extenuating circumstance, you can share that information in your personal statements.

If, instead, you are applying to the workforce upon graduation instead of graduate school, then it is highly unlikely that your W will matter. In fact, it is unlikely for your employer to ever even see or ask for your transcripts.

Instead, the most information you may share is your GPA (not always required, but beneficial for a resume if it’s relatively high) and your degree. It could even be the case that none of this will ever be shared with your employer as they will accept taking your word for it.

The Bottom Line

The fact of the matter is that having a W on your transcript may matter more for some than for others. If you want to go to graduate school and have a repeating pattern of withdrawals, you may not be a favorable candidate for admissions.

Additionally, your current institution may find grounds for dismissal with repeating withdrawals as it makes you unfit to continue studying.

On the other hand, if there is no alternative to withdrawing, like something happens out of your control, or a failure will be the alternative outcome, then take the W and move on. If you have to retake the class again for your major at a later time, then so be it. At least you will go in more prepared with what to expect from the coursework.

Your college transcripts and grades should be taken seriously. It’s useful to remember that when you need help, you can always ask for it and find ways to get by before failing or quitting.