This is a question I see a lot – “Is it bad to have a W on your transcript?” In my opinion, the connotations are different depending on if you’re asking as a high school student or a college student. The general answer is “not really.”
What does a W mean?
Simply put, “W” stands for “Withdraw.” It signifies that you have dropped a course past the school’s drop deadline. This could also signal to others viewing your transcript that the course may have been too difficult for you. Of course, there are a variety of reasons why someone might not like the class, but only a few of those reasons cause a student to completely withdraw.
For High School Students
The common example is when a student decides to challenge themselves with an AP course, only to realize they have a D in the class. Do you try to improve the D to a C? Do you drop the class and hide the grades altogether? Most high school students in the United States don’t exactly have the choice to take the classes they want. There is normally a linear path (ie. Math 10 to Math 11) and dropping a generally common course like math is a sign it was too hard for the student, not that the student didn’t like it. At least from my experience, you aren’t able to switch out to a different teacher in the next term like in some colleges.
So, having a W on your transcript may show that you couldn’t keep up with a challenging class. But, this doesn’t mean your chances at going to a good university is over! Admissions officers may see it as you attempting to challenge yourself, but discovering it wasn’t the right level for you. Especially if you dropped AP Computer Science when you’ve selected English as your prospective major, this wouldn’t hurt you. On the other hand, seeing that you dropped AP Calculus AB but you’re applying to be a math major may put some doubts in the recruiter’s mind.
For College Students
The “W” has significantly less weight for college students. Unless you are applying to go to a graduate school, it really doesn’t matter. Very few employers ask for your transcript, and if they do, it’s to confirm your attendance and GPA.
From personal experience, my midterms were always after the “W-free” drop date and barely a few days before the final “W” drop date. I think there’s no shame in dropping a course after seeing that you flunked your first midterm. There’s enough flexibility in college to take different courses, try different professors, and retake classes. So even if you did get a “W,” graduate schools wouldn’t blink twice about seeing it on the transcript.
Don’t go overboard, though. Having several “W’s” is strange and possibly alerts an admissions officer that you are not committed to any class, and don’t really know what you want or need to do. While there’s no magic number, I would say 2-3 shows taking advantage of options, and more than 3 signals a struggle.
Regardless of where you are with your withdraws, don’t let it take control of your life! This is relatively a very, very minor mark in your admissions process. There are many other factors recruits are assessing before they care about a “W” on your transcript. Take the time to carefully think about your pro’s and con’s now that you understand the meaning behind that letter!