Most college transcripts have a surprise here or there. One or two shouldn’t ruin your chances for getting into the medical school of your dreams. In fact, some won’t even show up. Here’s how W’s, FW’s, Drops, I’s and F’s stack up:

Level 5: Dropping a class

Dropping a class won’t affect you one iota. That’s if you drop it prior to the official add/drop date (every campus publishes that date). The deadline is somewhere during the first couple of weeks of classes. At most schools, as long as a class is dropped before the add/drop deadline, it won’t even show up on your official transcripts!

Now, it could be a different matter if you drop the class after that date. Except in the case of a true emergency, your college will likely leave that on your transcript, and from that date forward, it will be called a “withdrawal” rather than a “drop.”

Level 4: Incomplete

By the time the adcoms have your transcripts in hand, there shouldn’t be any “incompletes” in sight. That’s because the “I” designation for a class is usually only temporary, and based on your promise to complete the coursework for a class—and the professor’s willingness to extend the allowable time for you to finish up. Once you’ve met all the requirements, you’ll get your grade. If you don’t finish, you’ll most likely get an “F.” This should not be an option for a serious student.

Level 3: Withdrawal or failure to withdraw

Here, there’s a bit more of a problem. A “W” or “FW” (failure to withdraw) is earned when you pull out of a class after the drop course deadline. The “W/FW” that shows up on your transcript could be a red flag that signals that you don’t do what is needed to finish what you start. That said, one “W” (or “FW”) on your transcripts probably won’t amount to anything…especially if it’s not in a core science class. (If it is in a core class, you’ll need a good story to go with it, and a re-take that shows you cleaned up the mess.) A string of two or more “W’s” doesn’t look good. Hint to self: you must always formally drop a class before the deadline passes to ward off the Evil Spirits of Transcripts Past.

Level 2: “F” for failed

As I said in a previous answer, this shouldn’t be an option for any class—core or otherwise—if you’re shooting for getting accepted into medical school. Every “F” will drag down your GPA, and shows a lack of interest in/dedication to your schoolwork. If there’s an “F” on your transcripts, it had better be in the first semester of your freshman year. The trend in all your grades should be either consistently high, or trending upwards. If your grade trend is downward, it can and will be held against you!

Level DEFCON 1: Severe readiness!

Once you’re in the application phase, it’s too late to worry about a W or F on your transcripts. Be assured that a very strong application with a stellar MCAT score, good GPA, and great EC’s and LOR’s, will likely overcome one or two of these stink-bombs. Most likely, it won’t spell the end to your medical school dreams. So don’t worry excessively—however, if you’re early in your pre-med career and have the chance to avoid W’s, F’s, even D’s and C’s, you’ll be glad you did!


Bryce Johnson co-founded premedFAQ.com in 2011 and is the author of Must Reads for the Well-Rounded Pre-Med on Amazon. If you'd like to write for the site or contribute in another way, feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn or via email.