LATE & RETROACTIVE WITHDRAWAL GUIDELINES
For students with declared majors in University College
What is a late or retroactive withdrawal?
A late withdrawal is withdrawal from a course after the final date to drop classes.
At the University of Memphis, this date falls around the middle of each semester.
The drop is called a retroactive withdrawal if it takes place after grades have been
What is the purpose of the late withdrawal policy?
The late withdrawal policy is designed to prevent a student from receiving an F in
classes in which serious and unforeseen circumstances that occur AFTER the official drop deadline make it impossible for the student to complete classes that semester.
Who approves a late or retroactive withdrawal?
Before the withdrawal deadline, students can process a withdrawal on the web or over the phone without seeking anyone else’s approval. The only exceptions are students who are
on an athletic scholarship or under a contract due to academic suspension, high school
deficiencies, or remediation. In those cases, the student should be sure to contact
the appropriate office to discuss the ramifications of their plans before withdrawing from any courses.
After the final withdrawal deadline, the student must obtain the approval for late withdrawals from the college in which the student is a major. Undeclared students must obtain
approval from the Academic Counseling Unit.
A request for a retroactive withdrawal more than one regular (i.e. fall or spring)
semester later may be submitted to the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate
Programs, AD 231.
What about faculty approval?
Decisions about approving withdrawals are made by the college, not the individual
faculty members. Information from the student’s instructors about attendance and academic
performance at various points throughout the semester is crucial for the college in
considering the student’s petition, but faculty are not asked to make a recommendation
about whether the petition should be approved or not. The reasons for requesting a
withdrawal can often be very personal or sensitive. The student does not have to discuss
with the faculty member the reasons for the request for a withdrawal since the faculty
member is only being asked to report to the college about the student’s academic performance
and attendance in the class that semester.
Under what circumstances will a petition for withdrawal be approved?
According to the Undergraduate Bulletin, requests for late withdrawals can be approved
“only on the basis of extenuating circumstances such as serious personal illness or
relocation due to employment.”
The two examples explicitly mentioned are not the only ones that are possible, and
even serious personal illness or job relocation might not suffice if they occurred
before the final drop date and the student failed to take advantage of the opportunity
to drop using STRIPES or the web.
There are three criteria that are used in deciding what will count as such “extenuating
circumstances.” The reason for withdrawing must be
• beyond the student’s control,
• unforeseeable, and
What counts as “beyond the student’s control”?
Neither serious illness nor job transfers are normally chosen by the student. However,
deciding that one needs to work more hours, deciding to move to different living conditions,
or deciding to work a different, better-paying shift or to take a better paying job
would not normally count as beyond the student’s control. If a student who is working
full-time to support her family and going to school part-time can show that she was
given a shift change and had to accept this change or be fired, this would count.
If a student is offered a promotion that comes with more or different hours and decides
to accept it even though this will make it difficult to pass classes that semester,
that would normally not be regarded as something beyond the student’s control.
What does it mean to say that the event must be “unforeseeable”?
Even severe difficulties beyond the student’s control will not count as grounds for
a late withdrawal unless they could not have reasonably been foreseen and handled
through the normal processes before the final withdrawal deadline. If the student
knew of the difficulties before the drop date and decided to stay in classes anyway,
then the late withdrawal policies are not designed to reverse this decision (or failure
to make a decision) only after it has become clear that this was not a prudent decision.
Since these circumstances need to be shown to be the reason why a student did not
pass the class, the student should normally be able to demonstrate that he or she
was attending regularly and making good academic progress in the class until the intervening
event occurred and the student should be able to show that the event took place after
the withdrawal date.
The unforeseeable criterion and recurring or chronic difficulties –
Some chronic illnesses such as diabetes or depression or some serious and recurring
family obligations or financial circumstances can present severe impediments to a
student’s success. During the first semester in which a student finds him- or herself
confronted with these circumstances and is trying to learn to cope with them, it may
happen that the drop date has passed and a late withdrawal is necessary before the
student has become completely aware of what is happening and what effect this will
have on the student’s classes. However, after that first semester the student’s decision
to enroll and stay enrolled in classes will be respected regardless of the outcome.
Students in these circumstances will not be allowed a late withdrawal if it turns
out that these were not good decisions. Late withdrawals for classes in those semesters
are not acceptable substitutes for careful and realistic planning with the help of
In these circumstances, it is extremely important for students to take advantage of
the support opportunities available through the Office of Student Development Services
and the Office of Disability Resources for Students at The University of Memphis.
The trained and dedicated professionals in these offices can assist the student in
academic planning and decision-making and help avoid the need for late withdrawals.
If something unexpected happens after the official withdrawal date, the student’s case will be significantly strengthened if the student is already
working with a professional counselor in one of these office who can confirm that
the event was indeed unforeseeable and that the student has been doing everything
he or she could to work through his or her difficulties and fulfill his or her academic
responsibilities within the normal procedures and deadlines.
What counts as “severe”?
The policy explicitly cites “serious” personal illness and uses job relocation and
not just a change in employment circumstances as extenuating circumstances. Anything
severe enough to warrant a late withdrawal should normally be so severe as to be a
complete hindrance to completing the semester at all. Several weeks of hospitalization
following a car accident would count. Having the flu for a week would not.
Whatever would be severe enough to count as severe should normally prevent the student
from completing any of his or her classes. That is why it is important for a student
to petition for a withdrawal as soon as it becomes clear what has happened and not
wait until grades have been awarded. If a student keeps going to some classes and
taking exams, then this is in itself an indication that the student did not consider
it severe enough to withdraw until the grade in the class became apparent. There may
be circumstances where a withdrawal would still be permitted, but this would certainly
weaken the case for the severity of the event.
This also means that whatever is severe enough to justify a late withdrawal in any
class should normally prevent students from continuing their studies at all and should
normally affect all of a student’s classes. Hence it will be unusual for a petition
for a withdrawal for a single class or for only some of the classes, but not others,
to be successful. Under some circumstances, this may be justified. For instance if
a student sustains a physical injury, that student would be allowed to withdraw from
the physical activities classes without being forced to drop other academic classes.
If a student misses the entire month of November due to illness and was doing well
in all of her classes until then, there might be a case where the student could be
allowed to continue the classes where most of the work consisted in reading outside
of class that the student was able to complete at home while withdrawing from all of the workshop classes where regular attendance was essential for success in
the class. In any case, requests for anything other than a withdrawal from all classes
must contain additional clear documentation of the reasons why the event affected
the one class or the one group of classes differently from the others.
What if I only found out about my grades after the official withdrawal deadline?
The late withdrawal policy is not intended simply as a mechanism for students to avoid
bad grades. Although we encourage the professors to try to give the students some
indication of their performance in the class before the drop date, this is often not
possible for a variety of reasons. If a student has doubts about his or her ability
to complete the course successfully, the student should consult with the instructor
and with his or her academic advisor before the drop date to get the best information
available to make an appropriate decision. In any case, though, the student needs
to make that decision before the withdrawal deadline and not wait until the grades are in. Poor prospects for successfully completing the
course cannot by themselves suffice as a reason for approving a withdrawal after the
drop date unless there are additional extenuating circumstances that are beyond the
student’s control, unforeseeable, and severe in the senses described above.
When should I present a petition for a late withdrawal?
Students should present a petition as soon as possible after the event occurs. For
the reasons explained above, it substantially weakens a student’s case if the student
waits until after grades are in or until the grade has become unavoidable before presenting
a petition for a withdrawal. To wait more than one semester also makes it necessary
to obtain an additional level of approval.
For practical purposes, it also becomes much more difficult or impossible to obtain
the necessary information from the instructors if a student does not present the petition
during the semester in question or as soon as possible afterwards. It can become impossible
to find the instructors and obtain the necessary documentation even for legitimate
cases if a student has allowed more than a semester or two to go by before attempting
to present a petition. Since the student must document that he or she was making good
academic progress until something happened later in the semester to disrupt that progress,
the student’s failure to present the petition in a timely fashion may make it impossible
for the student to obtain the documentation necessary for the petition to be approved.
This means that, even though there is no final deadline stated in the Bulletin for
exceptions, practical considerations will often make it impossible for a student to
present a successful petition after a few semesters have elapsed.
What should be included in my petition?
Some of the colleges have forms that spell out exactly what must be included and printed
forms for the instructors to sign. All of them require basically the same things,
however. The student must present in writing an account of what happened. The account
should include information about a) how the student was doing in each of his or her
classes until the intervening event occurred, b) the nature of the severe event that
intervened, when it began, and how long it lasted, and c) the effect this had on the
student’s classes. This account should be supported by documentation regarding the
student’s attendance and academic performance from each of the student’s instructors
that semester and by appropriate documentation of the external event. If your college
has these forms, it would be helpful to use them. If your college does not, then a
written letter accompanied by appropriate documentation will suffice.
How do I find my instructors?
The best way to be sure to be able to find the instructors is to present the petition
as soon as possible, best of all before the semester is over. After the semester is
over, it can become much more difficult to contact them or sometimes even to find
them at all if a semester or two has elapsed. The first place to look is on the University
of Memphis web-site. Run a search under “people” to find out the instructor’s email
address and office phone number. Especially when classes are not in session, it is
often easier to contact some instructors by email than by phone. The second place
to inquire is the department office for that instructor. The secretaries can often
provide the best advice about how to actually get in touch with an instructor in their
department, and faculty or staff will be most likely to know how to contact someone
who is no longer associated with The University of Memphis.
What if I cannot find all of my instructors?
The student is expected to make a good faith effort to contact all of the instructors.
If it turns out that one of the instructors is simply unavailable and the others have
provided enough information to show that the student’s account of his or her performance
is accurate, then that may sometimes suffice.
However, without at least some documentation of academic performance from the instructors,
it is impossible to verify the claims about the quality of the academic performance
of the student prior to the intervening event. Moreover, the failure to provide documentation
from one of the instructors who is available would cast doubt on the accuracy of the
account the student has provided. If the student cannot locate the instructors or
if the instructors can no longer provide reliable information about the student’s
attendance and performance because too much time has elapsed, then the student’s failure
to process the petition in a timely manner will have resulted in a failure to be able
to have the petition approved.
How do I document the extenuating circumstances?
That depends on the kind if event. For illnesses, medical documentation from a physician
or a hospital would normally be expected. For personal circumstances, confirmation
from a professional counselor would normally be appropriate. The important thing is
just that the documentation needs to be able to show that the student’s recollection
of events as stated in the petition is accurate. For these purposes, a wide range
of things can suffice and if there are any questions, one can best discuss that issue
with the representative of the college or the ACU to whom one presents the petition.
Does a late withdrawal have effect on my fees or financial aid?
Not automatically. Many of the same circumstances that justify a late withdrawal may
be grounds for fee reduction or an extension of student financial aid, but these questions
are addressed by different offices because there are different issues involved with
each of them. The colleges simply decide whether the student should receive a letter
grade (A-F) or a W.
The Bursar’s Office is charged with calculating and collecting student fees. They
will not normally consider a petition for fee reduction unless a student has been
withdrawn, but just because a student is withdrawn does not mean that the fees are
automatically reduced or forgiven. To apply for a fee reduction, contact the Bursar’s
The Office of Financial Aid determines whether the student or an external agency such
as the federal government will pay whatever fees are owed. There are some cases where
federal financial aid will cover the fees even if a student has failed the course.
There are other cases where a student is liable for the fees and must repay the aid
even if the student has been granted a late withdrawal. Students should address questions
about financial aid directly to the Office of Student Financial Aid.
If I am on suspension, will a late withdrawal take me off suspension?
In some cases, yes – depending on the effect it has on a student’s GPA. However, it
is still important that a student successfully address the problems that led to the
withdrawal before the student attempts to return to school. There are also cases where
a withdrawal cannot be granted, but the student can petition the Center for Academic
Retention and Enrichment Services to be allowed to take some classes. Those may be
granted if the student can show that the problems have now been successfully addressed
and resolved and the student now has a realistic plan for academic success.
If my petition is denied, can I appeal?
No. Decisions made concerning appeals for late or retroactive withdrawals are final.
What if, in the end, my petition is not successful?
The repeat policy at The University of Memphis allows a student to repeat a course
and replace the previous grade if the student has not taken the course before. This
means that a student should be able to make up for a semester that did not go well
without any long-term negative effects on academic status or GPA if this is the first
time there have been problems. The important thing is for students to assess their
problems honestly and make sure they have addressed them adequately before they attempt
to begin the next semester. Here again, what is crucial is that students address problems
early and take advantage of the many support opportunities at The University of Memphis,
including one’s academic advisor for information about courses and degree programs,
the Office of Student Development (120 Scates Hall, x2067) for personal counseling
services, and the Educational Support Program (143 Dunn Hall, x2704) for tutoring
and study skills programs.
Please contact your academic advisor to discuss how a late or retroactive withdrawal
will effect your program of study.