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A Guide To The Penn State Semester Withdrawal System

Two weeks into the fall semester of my sophomore year, I became sick with a college student’s worse nightmare: mono. This infectious disease caused me to miss two full weeks of classes and I fell behind in school. As the semester went on, I was still sick while the lingering disease ran its course through my body.

This left me depressed, to the point where I ultimately stopped going to class. What’s worse is I didn’t tell anyone. This led to an awkward conversation with my mother a week before finals, when I had to admit I was failing 18 credits worth of classes. After a few mental breakdowns, we looked for a way to both save my GPA and make up for the tuition I wasted. This terrible experience led me to Penn State’s saving grace: the withdrawal system.

As defined in the student handbook, the withdrawal system is essentially quitting college by dumping all of your classes and the grades you would have received for the semester. It makes everything disappear, as if you were never enrolled for the semester. This option is available until 5 p.m. on the last day of classes, just before the final exam period begins.

The following will teach you the withdrawal steps, as well as the benefits and disadvantages of the system.

A Quick How-To

  • Step one: This is the hardest step. Admitting to yourself and others this is your only option, other than failing, is a big step. Regardless of the reason, it’s a difficult choice with lasting repercussions.
  • Step two: Contact your academic adviser to discuss the impact on your academic plans. This step isn’t mandatory if you’re already confident in your decision. In most cases, you’ll be told you will need to go an extra semester before graduating to make up withdrawing.
  • Step three: Print out a withdrawal form or pick one up from the Bursar building and submit it to the Registration Office. I did this all at once: I went to the Bursar, had them help me fill it out, and then submitted it.
  • Step four: Re-enroll by filling out a re-enrollment request form and submitting it to the Registrar’s office. I did this the same day I submitted my withdrawal form, so I was a college drop-out for about 24 hours until both forms were filed.

*Note: This is a simplified breakdown of the withdrawal system for an average student. For a full and involved list of steps, you can refer to the Penn State Handbook. However the easiest way to go about doing this is by talking to an academic adviser or university faculty member. They know the process, and will assist you with your situation based on your specific problems. This will also save you time searching the internet for answers, case in point: this article. I spoke to a kind woman at the Registration Office who helped me every step of the way.

Tuition Reimbursement 

Depending on when and why you withdraw, your tuition will be adjusted. Be warned, this could in turn affect your student loans, grants, and scholarships. However, due to the uniquely complex nature of loans, someone in the Bursar’s office is the best resource when it comes to this topic.

Student Record Impact

While you won’t earn credit for the class, a W will appear on your transcript and your GPA will remain unaffected. Also, if you late-dropped a course earlier in the semester before your withdrawal, those late-drop credits will not be recorded. This all may sound like a relatively painless loophole to get out of a bad semester, but withdrawal is a very serious action and should only be used as a last resort.

My Advice

If you’re stuck in this unfortunate situation, it’s important to recognize you’re not alone. I felt like a complete failure going through this process, but I was reminded by multiple Bursar staff members this was a common occurrence. And while it is serious, it’s not something that will ruin your life.

Be honest with yourself, your family, and the university faculty. This will help you through the process with ease. Thankfully, there are resources available so that if you need help, it’s there for you. You just have to look.

About the Author

Brandilyn Heckman

is a junior majoring in Secondary Education (English). Though she commutes to class from her home in Penns Valley, she refuses to be called a 'townie.' Along with Onward State, she currently interns with the Centre Daily Times. In her spare time, she is unafraid to show her love for Penn State, Landon Donovan, and Captain America. You can follow her on twitter at @Brandilynh or contact her via email with [email protected]


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