Normally, we would start such an article with an anecdote or some elaborate description of a common premed problem, but this particular topic can be really scary. So we’re going to cut to the chase and tell you, without further ado, that dropping premed courses is not the end of the world.

Plenty of people sitting in medical school right now, or poring over patient charts in their white coats, dropped premed courses. So, there you have it! Whether you’ve already dropped a class or two, are considering dropping a class, or are just scared about the possibility for your future self, allow your panic to be assuaged.

(We also have a guide on how to survive the first year of medical school with more tips and tricks. Check it out.)

Now, let’s talk about the details of dropping premed courses: when you should do it and what it could possibly mean for your studies, career, and life.

P.S. Get Brainscape’s study app in your corner: we have expert-curated flashcard collections for just about every premed course, which can help you learn quicker, remember for longer, and cope with the intense workload.

We also have certified flashcards for the MCAT, authored by MCAT expert Clara Gillan, a 100th percentile MCAT-taker with a score of 526. Clara is also the Director of Product at MedSchoolCoach, which provides pre-med and medical school admissions consulting services, and MCAT and USMLE/COMLEX tutoring. (So she really knows her sh*t!)

More on Brainscape later!

Dropping a class (especially a premed course): what does it mean?

Girl hiding behind a stack of papers; Dropping a class

Put simply, dropping a class is the decision to stop taking a course that you’ve already started attending or are at least enrolled in. This is usually motivated out of the fear that the demands of this class (especially premed courses) will negatively affect your performance in your other courses. In turn, this might damage your final grade to such an extent that it compromises your medical school application.

At most U.S. colleges, you can drop any course (even a premed course!) very early in the semester, and no note would be made on your transcript. It’s as if you never took the course at all! However, if you choose not to do this but later realize that you do need to drop the course, most U.S. colleges have a second drop deadline. If you drop before that date, it counts as “withdrawing,” and some notation—usually a W—will go on your transcript.

Medical schools that you apply to will see this W, so this decision carries no small amount of risk. Once this second deadline passes you by, you’re locked into the course and can’t drop or withdraw from it, except sometimes under extremely extenuating circumstances.

Before we go further, we want to emphasize that every school’s specific policies are different. If you’re even considering dropping a class, we highly recommend going online immediately and looking up the rules around dropping a class at your institution.

As just one example of how confusing these policies can be, take UCLA, which currently has one of the largest premed populations in the country. UCLA divides its courses into “impacted” and “non-impacted” courses, where the designation of “impacted” depends on course popularity.

The rules around dropping an impacted course are different from dropping a non-impacted one. For non-impacted courses, UCLA has two drop deadlines. If you drop after the second deadline, you don’t get a W, but rather a separate transcript notation that also lists which week you dropped the course.

In contrast, at Ohio State—which also has an absolute ton of premeds—there are six different drop deadlines depending on the length of the course you’re taking, and you can’t even drop a course with a W unless you do so with an advisor’s help.

These details are already SO different from the generic situation that we described earlier, so let this emphasize the fact that you should go online and look up your own school’s policies if you are considering dropping a class.

That being said, most policies still share enough common ground that we can talk about a few general rules and common situations.

When should you drop a premed course?

Girl shrugging; dropping a class

First, let’s tackle when you should drop a course before the first deadline. This is a relatively easy question, because dropping at this point doesn’t affect your transcript, but it can still be a tough choice. We recommend only dropping a class before the first deadline in four situations:

Information overload

You realize that you’re taking way too many premed courses this semester, and your performance will dramatically suffer unless you cut back.

Overwhelmed and unnecessary

You quickly realize in the first few class sessions that you’re way out of your depth, and the class isn’t necessary for your major or premed requirements.

Overwhelmed but there’s an easier option

You similarly realize that you’re way out of your depth, and the class is required for your major or for medical school, but there’s an easier option.

This was super common at my undergrad school, USC, particularly with regard to physics. Essentially, premeds would accidentally sign up for the “physics for engineers” course when there was a separate, easier “physics for the life sciences” course for both semesters.

Alternatively, you might learn that the professor you have is the “super hard professor” and that the fun, easygoing professor teaches the course the next semester.

Extenuating circumstances

You face a mental health emergency or death in the family—anything that makes you realize that now probably isn’t the time to be overwhelmed by premed courses.

(Discover our guide on how to manage MCAT stress. You're not alone!)

What are the repercussions of dropping premed courses before and after the first deadline?

Bomb explosion; premed courses

Even though dropping a premed course before the first deadline won’t affect your transcript, there are still a few potential repercussions to keep in mind. If you’re attending college on financial aid, specific policies may require you to take a certain number of units at a time, or may carry other requirements that could be impinged upon by your decision to drop a course.

Similarly, many colleges mandate that all of their students take a certain number of premed courses at a time to retain full-time status. Another concern is that dropping a class may throw off your course load for future semesters.

Before making any decisions, plan out how dropping a class would affect this and the next several semesters. Make sure the premed class you’re dropping (if it’s necessary for you to graduate or is required by medical schools), is offered next semester or that you have another option to fulfill the requirement.

Colleges often have complex webs of prerequisites, so this is absolutely worth spending a few hours digging into so you don’t make a mistake that haunts you later.

“Should I drop a class after the first deadline?” This is where the decision can get really tough, because medical school admissions committees don’t like to see low grades, but they also don’t like to see a bunch of Ws. There is really only one unambiguous truth: dropping a course with a W is better than failing a course or even getting a D. This is always true; if you’re pretty sure you’re going to get a D, especially in a premed course, drop it.

Now, that’s not the hard question.

The hard question is: “should I drop a class or get a C (or maybe a B-minus)?” Here, we enter the world of ambiguity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make highly informed decisions. Crucial to these decisions is the need to balance GPA, which is a straightforward number, with the details on a transcript, which are less straightforward and are looked at subjectively by admissions committees.

Let’s explain what we mean by this …

Ws on a transcript are not factored into your GPA or your science GPA. This means that if your main concern is preserving your GPA, a W instead of a C or maybe a B-minus might be the smart option. Similarly, since Ws are always looked at subjectively by admissions committees, a W might be your best bet if you can spin it favorably.

The classic example of this is a student who gets one or even two Ws freshman year, but never drops a course again and gets all As for the rest of college. Medical school admissions committees will likely view this as someone who got their act together, and the As will result in a very favorable GPA, too.

In contrast, if you’re less concerned about maintaining GPA—say, if you’ve gotten mostly Bs already and a C won’t make much of an impact—or if getting a W plays into a negative narrative, then taking the lower grade is probably your better bet. This is true if you already have at least two Ws or if the W comes later in your college years and could be seen as potential evidence of a pattern of giving up or a downward trend.

Finally, how many Ws is too many?

Nobody can answer this question for you, but in the vast majority of cases, one W is fine and three Ws is likely to raise red flags. This doesn’t mean you should give up hope, though. Rather, if you’re teetering on the edge of your third W or have three already, we recommend talking to an advisor or other expert to get input on your specific situation.

How Brainscape can help you stay on track

Brainscape on mobile; dropping a class

As mentioned, one of the primary reasons students drop premed courses is because they are overwhelmed by the volume of information they have to learn and, as a result, they fear for their final grades. Brainscape—the world’s smartest study app—can help you manage this intense workload in many ways:

Number 1: You can find top user-created or certified, pre-made flashcards for most premed classes in our Knowledge Genome, as well as comprehensive study guides on how to study more efficiently in the Brainscape Academy.

Brainscape knowledge genome; premed courses
Brainscape’s Knowledge Genome contains a vast collection of top user-made and expert-curated flashcards for almost every premed course. And if you don’t find the course you’re after, you can easily create your own flashcards to help you learn more efficiently!

Number 2: You can use these flashcards to help you learn information faster and remember for longer, saving you hours of study time.

Number 3: OR quickly and easily create your own question-and-answer flashcards, focusing on the concepts you struggle with the most.

Brainscape mobile and web app; MCAT practice
Brainscape’s web and mobile app breaks knowledge down into logical bite-sized question-and-answer pairs, which compel users to engage active recall and metacognition to learn, while the spaced repetition of flashcards ensures more efficient studying.

Brainscape’s adaptive learning algorithm focuses on your weaknesses, helping you to bring your knowledge up to speed much quicker.

Number 4: And you can use the app anytime and anywhere, allowing you to repurpose those wasted, “in-between moments” (between classes, on the bus, before bed, etc.) into valuable study sessions.

With these benefits in tandem (and more), Brainscape can serve as the ultimate study tool to help you perform well at all of your premed courses. And while dropping a class may become a smart (or unavoidable) decision for you at some point, our web and mobile app can certainly help minimize the need for this rather drastic recourse.

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