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I'm currently in a Master's program for mathematics and I want to apply for a PhD.

I'm thinking of dropping one of my classes because it requires a final project which will be very time consuming. (I would have very little time to complete obligations for my other classes.) If I drop it, this class will appear with a grade of 'W' on my transcript which stands for "withdrawn". I'm worried how much this will blemish my transcript in the eyes of PhD programs.

I'm thinking this won't matter so much because this is the only class out of 11 classes that will have been dropped. Also, this is a physics class, not a mathematics class.

  • At a top 15 school with a W on my record. I do not think it affected me in admissions at all. – PVAL May 1 '14 at 3:26
  • The unit with large final project, may be the best PhD prep in your course. (Depending on its structure). (Particularly if it is a project so large that you have no other classwork for that unit say 1/2 of the semester) – Lyndon White Mar 21 '15 at 7:51
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If you have an otherwise excellent application, then withdrawing from a single course is unlikely to make much of a difference, especially a course in another field. For example, if you get A's in four graduate math classes and drop a physics class in the same semester, I doubt any math graduate school will care.

It could look a little strange if the dropped course were on your proposed specialty (so people would think you'd be particularly enthusiastic about it), but even that wouldn't be a disaster. If you aren't taking many courses and are getting worrisome grades in the others, then a W may look like you're narrowly avoiding an even worse grade, but in that case your application already has problems aside from the W. Overall, the way I'd look at it is that the W might intensify other weaknesses in your application, but isn't likely to be a big obstacle in isolation.

  • Thanks! I thought this would be the case but I wanted some reassurance. – Mark May 1 '14 at 4:08
  • In any case, be prepared to explain in an interview why you dropped. – Jim Raynor May 1 '14 at 8:47

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