With the midterm break in our academic rear-view mirror, students have entered the final stretch of the second online winter semester. It’s time for students to put their nose to the grindstone and begin working through remaining coursework for the year. While the upcoming workload is anticipated for university students, there’s a collective discouragement surrounding the lack of feedback received up to this point in the semester. Monday, March the 8th marked an important date for undergraduate students: The last date for students to drop winter semester courses without academic prejudice. This means that students enrolled in their courses have officially committed to their class selection for this semester—a fundamental commitment when considering the permanence of a student’s transcript. While this may appear to be a simple choice for students who have been applying themselves within their courses since January, with many assignments still unreturned up to this point, it is quite the opposite.
Today, many post-graduate programs require an impressive GPA. The competitive admission requirements for post-graduate programs apply a great deal of pressure for obtaining high grades during one’s undergraduate experience. This means that for many students, March 8th symbolizes an important future-based decision: should you drop a class that shows the potential to impair your academic standing? Or to commit your initial course selection?
To fully understand the significance of the March drop-date, I interviewed two undergraduate students. The first, a 3rd year Bachelor of Arts student with future aspirations to further her education after graduation. When I asked how she felt about the drop-date she stated:
“There’s really no coming back from it. In my opinion, you need at least 50% of your course work back to know if you’re growing in the course. In the beginning, as you submit your first assignment, you’re figuring out the pace of the course—understanding your pre-existing capabilities surrounding the topic. The second piece of assessment is where you can actually understand if you’re improving; without feedback on the later assessment, it’s hard to gauge if you’re making the right choice by continuing with the course and if you’re on track to achieve your desired grade.”
Most midterm assessments are due right either before the reading week break or directly after the break. If professors don’t have all work corrected in the short timeline between submission and the drop date, it’s hard to know if an initial bad grade will improve. The following student I interviewed is in her fourth year and explained her concern regarding the drop date, stating:
“This is especially true when it comes to electives. Electives involve more decisive course selection and can really make or break your overall average. There’s often so much riding on your grades. Making a choice like this without understanding if you can reach your goals by continuing with that elective course has caused me a lot of anxiety.”
It’s hard to pinpoint how these timelines became askew. While it’s understandable that professors have copious amounts of work to correct, receiving feedback before the drop date is imperative for students to make an informed decision. Ultimately, the dynamic between a student and the institution they attend can be compared to a partnership. In this partnership, students are expected to adhere to dates and complete course requirements; in order for a successful learning experience, this expectation needs to be mutually exchanged. Without feedback to guide students, maybe the drop date should be revaluated, or further, if a professor cannot provide required feedback by the drop date, they be given the discretion to extend it.