Academic Policies & Procedures for Undergraduates

Course Withdrawal


Withdrawing from a course differs from dropping a course. To drop a course, no permission is required—you drop the course yourself through ACES Web during the drop/add period, and the course does not appear on your official Duke transcript. However, if you withdraw from a course after the drop/add deadline for any reason, you must follow a set of procedures that begins at your academic dean's office, and (if the withdrawal is approved by your dean) ends when a grade of W is recorded on your official transcript. 

Students at Duke withdraw from courses for a host of good reasons, and consequently receipt of a W grade in a course is not a blemish on your record. 

Note: Withdrawal from a course will not be approved by the academic dean if disciplinary action is pending or a sanction has been imposed by the Undergraduate Conduct Board related to the course in question.

 If you are considering a course withdrawal, read carefully the information under Course Load to fully understand the ramifications of a withdrawal to an underload.

The deadline for requesting withdrawal from a course is four (4) weeks before the last day of classes. The specific deadline date is published in the Academic Calendar.

Note: the withdrawal deadline is a generous one and consequently strictly adhered to. It is your responsibility to decide whether to withdraw from a course and to set the withdrawal process in motion by picking up a withdrawal form or making an appointment for this purpose through your dean's office no later than 5 p.m. on the deadline date. To be valid, the completed form must be returned to the dean's office by the return date indicated on the withdrawal form. If you miss the deadline you should expect to remain in and complete the course in question.

Students enrolled in an overload are permitted to withdraw from a course to a normal load (4 cc) so long as they do so by the withdrawal deadline, but withdrawal from a course to an underload is generally permitted only once in a student's Duke career .

Students on academic probation are expected to remain in a full course load during their semester of probation and will be permitted to withdraw to an underload by their academic dean only in compelling circumstances.

If you are struggling in a course, should you withdraw from it or should you persist?

Each situation is unique, and you are welcome to discuss the range of options with your academic dean at any time. If you're having great difficulty in a course such as math, chemistry, or a foreign language where your background is weak or your study habits are not sufficiently developed to permit you to pass the course, then withdrawing from it might make sense. If you are struggling in a course but think you can finish with a passing grade, then persisting might be appropriate. This is particularly true if you are using available resources (tutors/help room/study groups, Academic Skills Instructional Program, etc.), conferring with the instructor, and believe you are making progress as the semester continues. Have a frank discussion with your instructor about how you are doing in the course. How are grades determined in the course? What grades do you have to date? What is the best- and worst-case scenario at the end of the semester? Will putting so much time into one course cause you to neglect your other courses, perhaps pulling all of your grades down?

If you must withdraw from a course, consider it a learning experience. Try to identify the factors that led to your difficulties in the course and determine how to avoid the same problems in the future, whether or not you repeat that course. Consider that if you are working on such skills as reading, memorization, problem-solving, or time management, the same issues could affect some of your other courses, and it would be most appriate to take steps to address the problem(s) sooner rather than later. Among other strategies, you might wish to consult with an instructor in the Academic Skills Instructional Program to better understand your learning style.

Medical withdrawal from a course

The deadline for all course withdrawals, including ones for medical reasons, is 5 p.m. on the date four weeks prior to the last day of classes. The procedural and documentation requirements for a medical course withdrawal are described in the article entitled, Medical Withdrawal from a Course, where you will also find a form to be completed by your healthcare provider.

If you experience health problems that seriously affect your ability to meet academic responsibilities, you should contact your academic dean as soon as possible. Your dean can help you understand the options that may be available to you. For example, it may makes sense for one or more of your instructors, in consultation with your dean, to issue a grade of Incomplete (I) in the course(s). In cases of severe medical disability in which your ability to complete coursework has been compromised, a medical leave of absence may be the best decision.  Please meet with your academic dean to explore the best course of action for you.

In exceptional cases, a course withdrawal for medical reasons may be possible after the course withdrawal deadline has passed, but only if other options, such as an incomplete or a medical leaves of absence, are determined to be inappropriate remedies. Please note that a course withdrawal late in the semester would require a written petition to the academic deans of Trinity College. Under no circumstances will a course withdrawal for medical reasons be permitted after 5:00 pm on the last day of classes. Because special policies and requirements apply, please consult your academic dean for information about withdrawal from a course for medical reasons.

For additional details and access to the documentation required, please consult Medical Withdrawal from a Course.


To withdraw from a course, you will need to pick up a course withdrawal form from your academic dean's office, get the signature of the instructor, and return the form to the dean's office. 

When withdrawing from a course to an underload--since this is generally only permitted once--you should expect to meet with your dean to discuss the matter. Contact your academic dean's office for information about how to proceed.  For detailed information about policies related to underloads, see Course Load.
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