What You Need to Know

Academic Difficulty

During the freshman year, in either the fall or spring semester, or during a new transfer's first semester, a student may begin to experience academic difficulty in one or more class. This could be due to any number of factors - a heavy reading load, material one finds difficult to understand, or personal issues that interfere with one's ability to stay focused and complete coursework on time. Whatever the reason, it’s important not to suffer in silence, and to ask for help when you start to feel overwhelmed or fall behind in a course.

Talk To Your Professor

The first thing any student experiencing difficulty in a class should do is talk to the professor immediately. The professor almost certainly has experience assisting struggling students, and can offer valuable advice. Schedule a visit during your professor’s office hours to talk about what course material you are having difficulty with. Your professor may be able to help you arrange for a Peer Tutor, or assist you with getting tutoring help at the Moss Quantitative Center. Speaking with the professor as quickly as possible is the best way to get help for any difficulty you are experiencing with the class, and also shows the professor that you are committed to trying to succeed in the course.

Talk To Your Class Dean

A student experiencing any academic difficulty also has an open invitation to schedule an appointment to talk with the Dean of New Students. Your Dean can also make recommendations and give you advice for coping with academic difficulty, including helping you get a Peer Tutor. The Dean can also discuss with you the Freshman/Transfer Drop option. You should, however, think of the Freshman/Transfer Drop as a last resort and not the first option. The Dean will require you to exhaust all available academic support services and to seek guidance from the course instructor before considering granting a Freshman/Transfer Drop.

Academic Support Services

Resources abound for students in need of academic support. The Peer Tutoring Program matches students with a tutor who has been approved by a department to assist other students with specific courses. The Office of Student Affairs manages the Peer Tutoring program. Students who wish to work with a Peer Tutor must first receive approval from their professor. The next step is to visit the Office of Student Affairs to request a tutor for the course. It is then the responsibility of the student to make contact with a tutor, arrange for sessions, and follow up with the Office of Student Affairs to let us know with whom you will be working.

The Moss Quantitative Center, which is located in the Merrill Science Center, offers walk-in tutor services for math, science, and economics courses. The Q Center's schedule will be online at www.amherst.edu/academiclife/support/moss_quantitative_center once the semester gets underway and tutors are approved. The Q Center staff can also be reached at 413-542-8331.

The Writing Center offers help with academic writing by faculty, professional staff, and peer tutors. Students can seek help from the Writing Center on a variety of topics: getting a paper started, editing, time management, anxiety issues, and more. The Writing Center’s website at www.amherst.edu/academiclife/support/writingcenter can give you more information about this valuable resource.

You may find yourself in academic difficulty and quickly begin to feel overwhelmed. Never fear! There are many people and programs that are eager to assist you with your struggle and ease the resulting anxiety. Above all, if you find yourself falling behind or struggling in a class, do not give up or do nothing. Seek out the resources that are here to help.

The Mid-Semester Freshman/Transfer Drop Option

The Freshman/Transfer Drop is a widely-misunderstood option granted to first-year students or first-semester transfer students when academic difficulty sets in and the available resources - peer tutors, Q-Center, and Writing Center - are unable to assist the student in getting back on track with their work.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Freshman/Transfer Drop is that it must be approved by the Dean of New Students and your professor before you stop attending the class. Students who feel overwhelmed in a class and stop attending are dismayed days or weeks later to discover that they are not automatically granted a drop simply because they stopped attending their class.

There is a specific time period during which students can request a drop petition from the Dean of New Students, usually between the fifth and eighth week of classes.

Your professor and advisor must also approve a drop petition, so it is a good idea to schedule a meeting with both of them to discuss your academic standing. In the event that you are allowed to drop a course, the petition form is given to you by the Dean, and you are then responsible for securing both your advisor and professor’s signatures and returning the petition to the Office of Student Affairs by the deadline. Only when the completed petition is handed in to the Office of Student Affairs and signed by the Dean is your drop officially approved. 

One  consequence of an approved Freshman drop is that your transcript will list the course, and will report a "W*".  The asterisk is explained in a footnote as "withdrawal without penalty as per Freshman Drop rule."   Since you can graduate from Amherst College with 31 courses, it will not be necessary to take an additional course in another semester.  Should you wish, you will be able to take the course again.


  1. 1. Students should establish relationships with their course instructors.
  2. In the event of any academic difficulty, students should first speak with the instructor, not about dropping the course, but rather about ways of better comprehending course material.
  3. Students are expected to seek out resources, e.g., Professor's assistance and office hours, Q Center, Writing Center, and Peer Tutor.
  4. Students wishing to talk with the Dean about using the Freshman/Transfer Drop must make an appointment before the end of the eighth week of classes
  5. Students should not assume they will be granted a Freshman/Transfer Drop before speaking with the professor or the Dean, and should not stop attending class.