Currently, it is the University’s policy to charge a student $45 to drop a course after the second week of classes. This is not to say that students should be given free reign to drop whenever. It is in many cases a waste of time for the professors and graders to put time and effort into a student who is only going to drop the course. The problem arises, however, from the University’s misunderstanding of why a student drops a course.
When students drop courses in the first two weeks of class, when there is no penalty, it is because they are trying out different courses to see which ones they want to take. However, when people drop courses in the sixth week, it is for an entirely different reason. First of all, they are no longer deciding between classes, because at that point it is impossible to join a new class. So now they are choosing between taking five classes and four, or four and three. My sense is that — by this point — students have put a lot of work into a course and aren’t dropping it because they are not particularly interested in the material, but rather because they have become overwhelmed, and what was once good and enjoyable is now extremely stressful.
Maybe their independent work snuck up on them; maybe they are having a problem in their personal life; maybe their sleep is suffering. For whatever the reason, this is not the kind of person who should be penalized for dropping a course. In fact, according a residential college adviser I spoke to, these students actually need incentive to drop the course, if anything.
Princeton students are not generally the kind to take up things willy-nilly. Yes, there is an add-drop period, but after that, students are generally committed to the courses they have. Since Princeton does not allow students to be part-time, students are for the most part aware of and constrained by the course selection requirements. Maybe in the third and fourth weeks, when students can still potentially pick up other courses, a penalty could be helpful. But once students are in the sixth week of the class, internal considerations of time and effort spent are going to far outweigh any $45 fee.
So what is the point of the fee? It’s hard to say. It’s certainly not a processing fee at the Registrar’s office; the action is done on SCORE, and I would be surprised if anyone at that office was even alerted to it. At that point, the fee is merely to act as an administrative deterrent, and in this it fails. Like I said, if a person is set on dropping a course, the $45 is going to be an annoying inconvenience at most.
In a way, this points not only to the administration’s lack of understanding about the reason courses are dropped in later weeks but also to a general attitude that continuing things is good and dropping them is bad. Often, dropping something is the best idea. Sometimes you can only push through organic chemistry for so long before you start disliking everything about being pre-med, and by extension, about all your time at school. Sure, sometimes you need to have someone light a fire under your ass to do the things you want to do, but there’s already a strong culture of that here. What there isn’t a culture of is dropping the sax only to find how much you love the piano, a decision I am thankful for almost every day of my life.
Luke Massa is a philosophy major from Ridley Park, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.