What will happen if I withdraw from a class? Will the medical schools to which I am applying be able to see this? Will it affect my chances of getting in? These questions have come up many times over the years and for good cause. It is one of those situations that is not clear cut and there is no right answer. The answer is dependent on a number of factors. First off, all of your grades from college, including Withdrawn and Incomplete classes, show on your transcript. The only classes that do not show up are classes that you dropped prior to the drop deadline.
If you have only withdrawn from one or two classes, it should not pose too much of a risk, and chances are you still have a shot at being accepted at most medical schools. Keep in mind that some schools recognize this as a likely (albeit not desired) part of a student’s career, while others consider it to be a red flag and indicative of a larger issue. However, if the number of withdrawn courses is greater than two, it can certainly raise some eyebrows and potentially hinder your chances of getting accepted. It also depends on the type of class – if it is a pre-med course, a required course or one that counts toward your major, it will not be looked upon favorably. Even though it will not affect your GPA, questions will surely come up and you will likely have to explain yourself at some point.
The main question will involve your reason for withdrawing and this is where you can spin it in a positive way. There are many compelling reasons for which you may have had to withdraw from a course. This includes financial difficulties, time and personal conflicts, illness, etc. However, if it is for a less persuasive reason, such as wanting to keep your GPA up, you missed too many classes, or you were bombing the class, you may be seen as someone who avoids a challenge, someone who wants to take the easy way out, or someone who has difficulty committing. None of these personality traits are attractive to medical schools, so they will most certainly view you less favorably than someone who has not withdrawn from any course. Also, even if you have a great reason that tugs at their heart strings, if you have withdrawn from more than 2 courses throughout your college career, it may appear to be a pattern and your credibility has just gone out the window.
So when should you disclose to medical schools your reasons for withdrawing? It should not be during your AMCAS primary application process. The only exceptions would be if you learned a major lesson from withdrawing from that class or if it played a major role in your path to medical school. You most likely would want to include it as part of your secondary application. There are plenty of secondary essay questions where you can explain, such as “what is a major obstacle that you have overcome?” or “tell me about a lesson that you learned.” Should you be forthright and mention it upfront during your interviews or should you not mention anything until asked? The answer depends on your specific circumstance, but you should most certainly prepare a solid and believable answer that will show you in a positive light if the question comes up, and it most certainly will.
The bottom line is, if you have a choice to either withdraw or remain enrolled in a class and you are on the fence, the overwhelming answer is to try to suck it up and not drop the course. If you can avoid having a big fat W on your transcript, then do everything in your power to do so. However, if you know that you are going to bomb a class, then a W looks a Whole lot better than an F or a D! This is not a decision to take lightly, so take your time and get as much advice as you can, before making your final selection.