Northwestern implements universal deadline for class withdrawals

Matthew Choi, Assistant Campus Editor

All Northwestern undergraduate classes will now have one final withdrawal deadline — noon on the last Friday before finals week.

Previous quarters had varying policies and timetables on withdrawal — removing a class after the drop deadline — that depended on each course. This quarter, students will have until March 11 to withdraw from a course following the Feb. 12 drop deadline.

This change in policy follows the implementation of a uniform course withdrawal policy last quarter, which permits students in the McCormick School of Engineering to drop individual courses for the first time. Under that policy, all schools clarified that students can drop a class after the drop deadline and receive a “W” withdrawal grade on their transcripts.

Last quarter, schools such as the School of Communication, Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and School of Education and Social Policy said students could withdraw from a class until the due date of the final exam or project. Changing the deadline to a date consistent across schools will alleviate stress for students during finals week, said University Registrar Jacqualyn Casazza.

“I do think that the very late and almost individualized deadline we had in the previous term was a bit of a problem for students,” Casazza said. “If you’re withdrawing two weeks before the end of the quarter it’s no big deal, but if you need to know whether you have to go to that exam or not, that can be pretty stressful.”

Having withdrawal deadlines according to final class assessments could also be distracting during finals week, said Joseph Holtgreive, assistant dean for student career development at McCormick.

“If students are trying to prepare for their finals, having that withdrawal kind of hanging out there as an escape clause was more of a distraction than an aid or a positive option,” Holtgreive said. “Withdrawing in the last week or during finals week overall had a negative impact because a lot of the students, when I was talking with them, hadn’t slept much and so they were making these decisions under duress.”

The universal policy has had positive effects, Casazza said. Previously, each school had a different withdrawal policy. Having a universal policy allows students to better understand their options, she said.

“A lot of students, especially students who are first generation in college, wouldn’t even necessarily know that going to the dean’s office and asking for an exception was a possibility,” Casazza said. “Establishing the withdrawal period was a way to really have no secret policies. That way everybody knew what the options were and that we were offering the same options to every student.”

Having a universal withdrawal period is common among universities, and the policy implemented last quarter aligned Northwestern’s policy with that of its peers.

The Office of the Registrar looked at other Association of American Universities schools and schools that use the quarter system, such as Stanford University and The University of Chicago, to help create a beneficial withdrawal period, Casazza said.

Changing the withdrawal deadline allows students to better assess their options and drop courses when it would be most beneficial, said Beth Bennett, Medill’s director of undergraduate journalism.

“It’s a really positive change,” Bennett said. “It will help students to make a decision hopefully sooner and to really evaluate where they are in the class and what their feelings are about staying in the class where they really feel like they’re struggling.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the last day students can withdraw from a course. The correct date is March 11. The Daily regrets the error.

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