Withdrawing from a class means that at some point within your school-prescribed timeline, you remove yourself officially from the class roster. This may have implications on your student status and financial aid, but it also means that you don't receive an official grade for the course other than a "W" for withdrawal.
In some cases, students figure out pretty quickly that a class isn't a good fit. You might show up on the first day, listen to the course description and policies, and realize your interest in the content and chances of success are slim. Sometimes, it takes a week or so to realize the mismatch. If you withdraw very early, it will be as if you never took the class at all, and you may get a 100 percent refund for the class tuition. School policies vary, though. Early withdrawal deadlines are sometimes the first day, the end of the first week or two weeks in. Partial refund withdrawals are also possible by certain dates.
W or F
The real dilemma becomes apparent after several weeks of class, when you don't have a tuition refund option. Instead, you may have a choice between withdrawing by the final drop date or finishing out the term with an "F." Withdrawing doesn't affect your GPA. You can retake the course, if required, at a later point when you are more prepared. A withdrawal also looks better than an F on your transcript if you submit it for graduate school or to a future employer.
The common obstacle to withdrawal is financial aid. Public and private financial aid, veteran benefits programs and employer assistance programs often base support on full-time student status. If you take 12 credits in a semester, which is a typical full-time requirement, and drop a class, you fall below full-time status. This may impact your eligibility for future financial aid, or you may be required to pay back your funding source for the tuition and books for the dropped course. Failing a course may also put financial aid in jeopardy, if it puts you under a minimum grade point average requirement. And if you drop under the institution's grade point average requirement, you may be forced to drop out.
When contemplating a withdrawal or completion decision, it is often best to visit with a financial aid counselor. In some situations, mitigating factors contribute to student struggles. Personal or family medical problems, for instance, can impede your success in school. You often have the ability to appeal your special circumstances to the college to retain financial aid eligibility. Veterans programs and other assistance programs outside of the college may also consider extenuating circumstances.