I'm currently finishing up my masters degree and hoping to apply to quite a few good PhD programs. I've gotten perfect scores in all my classes thus far as a graduate student and as an undergraduate, I got perfect scores in my major classes.

I'm currently taking only one class because I'm working full time (and I've taken all the graduate courses in my field already (at my current university), so there isn't really much left for me to take), and it's taking it's toll on me quite a bit (I'm barely sleeping, constantly stressed, anxious, etc.).

I'm considering dropping the one course I'm taking, but it's halfway through the semester and I would end up receiving a W (withdrawal) on my transcripts. I plan to leave my job at the end of the semester, so this shouldn't be a problem in the upcoming semesters.

  • How does having a W on ones transcripts affect PhD applications?
  • How do admissions committees look at it?
  • Any advice to students in a similar position as my own?

Note: I've read this post with a similar title, but it doesn't directly address my concerns; it's primarily asking about the proper protocol to follow when sending transcripts; in this case, the transcripts will be sent regardless.

2 Answers 2


I've been heavily involved in graduate admissions at a top-20 program for many years. A single withdrawal never bothers me; I realize that life happens. It's when they start to become common across a transcript that I start to worry.


You should plan on explaining this "W" as part of the application process (perhaps in the cover letter of your application.) The fact that you're withdrawing from the very last course that you took at this university looks suspicious. For example, it might be what we would see if you were caught cheating by a professor.

The explanation that you weren't able to complete the course because you took on a full time job is a quite reasonable one. My point is that you will want to communicate this information along with your application (and perhaps have one of your recommendation letters address what happened.)

  • From the question I don't get the sense that this is the last course ever at the university. Indeed, the poster talks about "upcoming semesters."
    – Corvus
    Mar 2, 2015 at 5:55
  • I read the question as saying that the OP was working full time and planning to enter a PhD program this fall, in which case this course would be his last at the institution. If he's going to take one or more semesters of course work at his current institution before transferring, then I wouldn't be concerned. I hope that the OP will clarify this. Mar 2, 2015 at 6:00
  • I've withdrawn from a course where the graduate secretary told me to sign up, look at the course and see if it interests me. If not I could always withdraw from the course within the first 4 weeks. I withdrew because it was too far from my area of research, but contrary to my expectation, it is listed as "withdrawn" on my transcript. Is this something one should justify on an application? (I didn't think so, but I was surprised to hear that some people might think I could have withdrawn for being caught cheating, which seems to be a much more serious issue.)
    – Earthliŋ
    Jun 4, 2016 at 9:58

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