I'm currently a Senior Undergraduate planning on applying to MS and PhD programs this Fall.

Between my current research job, TA position, and courses I believe I'm over committed time wise this semester (only 2 weeks in and I'm very stressed). I was looking to drop a course to free up my schedule and unfortunately the best candidate seems to be a course in my research area in which I'm applying to graduate schools.

The class takes place during night hours, it's poorly taught/structured, and I seem to know most of the material already. I have publications in the area and I feel as they should make up for not taking the course, but currently dropping the course would show up on my transcript (as a withdrawal).

Would a withdrawal from a course in my related research area negatively affect my graduate application? If so, severely?

Currently I am having a discussion with an advisor, but I'd also like thoughts from others who are familiar with graduate admissions processes. There are several other related questions on this site, but all seem to address a large number of W's or W's in areas not related to their proposed research area.

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't worry about it. You have a perfectly valid reason for dropping. Your advisor can give the best advice, of course, knowing you better than we do, and also knowing other options you might have.

But a poorly taught course won't give you much of a push toward your goal in any case.

But if your advisor is "on board" with you dropping and supports you generally, then you should be fine for the more important task of getting good letters of recommendation, which will count much more heavily than a W on the transcript.

  • Thanks for the answer! Do you feel as though this W would require explanation in my SOP?
    – Dando18
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:07
  • Not necessarily. Try to make the SoP as positive as you can. Why I will be a success here and hereafter. If it is raised in an interview or otherwise then you can comment. It isn't as if this is a unique situation for an admissions committee.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:16
  • @Dando18 Many applications have a separate box for answering some question along the lines of "Is there anything you'd like to explain about your record?" This is mainly intended for explaining serious illness, family circumstances, etc. that affected academic performance, but if you want to explain why you withdrew from the course, that might be a good place to put it without affecting other areas of the application.
    – ekl
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 14:42

I have publications in the area and I feel as they should make up for not taking the course,

Yes, I agree. If I were on the admissions committee, I would count publications much more heavily than classes.

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