Late and Retroactive Withdrawal Guidelines

A late withdrawal is withdrawal from a course after the final date to drop classes. At the University of Memphis, beginning in Spring 2023, this date falls around the 75 percent mark of the semester. The late withdrawal period extends through the end of the next regular semester (fall or spring). The withdrawal is called a retroactive withdrawal if it occurs more than one regular semester (fall or spring)  after the semester for which the withdrawal is requested. Once a degree has been completed and certified, changes to the academic record may only be made in instances where the University has made a transcript error.

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 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 official 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 Advising Center.

Petitions to withdraw from courses that ended more than one regular (fall or spring) semester after the semester for which the withdrawal is requested may be submitted to the Registrar’s Office located at Wilder Tower 003. Petitions may be emailed to darkeel@memphis.edu. (The Registrar’s Office works in conjunction with the Vice President of Student Academic Success on retroactive withdrawals.)

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 Catalog, requests for late withdrawals can be approved “only in cases of such extreme circumstances as serious personal illness and relocation because of 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 withdrawal date and the student failed to take advantage of the opportunity to withdraw.

There are three criteria that are used in deciding what will count as such “extreme circumstances.” The reason for withdrawing must be:

  • Beyond the student’s control,
  • Unforeseeable, and
  • Severe

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.

Unforeseeability and course completion

Difficulties that arise before the end of the course can hardly be considered “unforeseeable” if a student stays enrolled for most of the course and continues to take quizzes, tests, etc. Students who encounter difficulties should petition for a late withdrawal as soon as these problems become clear to them. Late or retroactive withdrawals are not intended to substitute for a students need to make appropriate decisions at the time. For that reason, if a student has attempted the final exam or final class assignments, then it would be extremely unlikely that a case could be made that the difficulties were unforeseeable and therefore that a retroactive withdrawal would be granted.

The unforeseeability 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 trained professionals.

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 Student Disability Services 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 deadline, 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 withdrawal deadline, 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?

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 website. Run a search under “people” to find out the instructor’s email address. 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 office staff 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 of 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 Academic Advising Center 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.

University & Student Business Services 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 University & Student Business Services directly.

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 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 (CARES) 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, is there further 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 Counseling Center (214 Wilder Tower, 901.678.2068) for personal counseling services, and Educational Support Programs (217 Mitchell Hall, 901.678.2704) for tutoring and study skills programs.