Dear Kelly,

I’m currently in an online math class and feel like I am completely in over my head. I thought about dropping the course, but I know that would negatively affect my GPA. Can you give me any advice? What are my options?

First of all, you are not alone. As a student success coordinator, this is one of the most common concerns I hear.

Online classes can truly be a benefit when completing your program. For students who are juggling different priorities, online courses offer more flexibility. But for a subject area that you may already struggle with, not having a face-to-face connection with your professor can negatively impact you in the end, especially if you haven’t prepared yourself to seek the extra support you may need.

Therefore, it is vital that you put your educational needs first when deciding if online courses are right for you.

For instance, do you already struggle in that subject area? Does the thought of taking a course — whether it’s online or face-to-face — in that subject area cause you anxiety? How much will your program depend on your full understanding of the foundations within that subject area? Finally, what steps can you take to support your comprehension of the material if you begin to struggle?

These questions must be considered, especially when taking online-only courses.

For you, dear letter writer, there are options to dropping the course. If you don’t drop within the drop/add period, then yes, withdrawing from the course will harm your GPA.

In fact, a withdrawal from a course after the drop/add period affects your grade the same way an “F” would. You don’t earn any points, however you attempted those hours.

That’s why my best advice for you is to stay with the course but take advantage of the resources that Mercer University has provided to support student success.

One of those resources is the Academic Resource Center, which provides free tutoring online and in-person. Although the services provided may differ based on your location and other factors, the Academic Resource Center offers numerous options to help you understand concepts in many different subject areas.

I encourage you to connect with the Academic Resource Center and see how its services may help you succeed as you navigate online and face-to-face courses.

When students find themselves struggling in any of their courses, I always encourage them to contact their professor and schedule a meeting. You should do the same. Sometimes, just including your professor into the conversation can help alleviate misunderstandings and confusion of the material.

All professors have office hours, and even if your class is online, there are ways to meet with the professor. This is usually outlined in your syllabus, so look there. And remember, the sooner you let your professor know you are struggling, the more opportunities your professor will have to help you.

Another step you can take when you are struggling in an online class is to reach out to your fellow classmates. I understand this may feel awkward, especially since you don’t generally meet on a regular basis.

But reaching out to your classmates may spur a discussion about misunderstanding the content and, at the same time, encourage support and build strong connections. Even as an online student, you have access to Mercer’s facilities, so you could develop study groups that meet on campus, even if your class does not.

Worst case scenario, if you decide to stay in the course and — after seeking tutoring and help from your professor — you still aren’t successful, you now have the knowledge of what you need to succeed.

Throughout your college career there will be ups and downs. Don’t look at the downs as failures, rather use them to learn more about yourself and your individual needs.

For instance, you may realize that because you struggle in a particular subject, in order to be successful you require the support you receive from a face-to-face professor. These lessons will serve to guide you throughout your academic journey if you make the changes necessary to support your success.

The best part is if you decide to take that course face-to-face instead, Mercer’s support services, like the Academic Resource Center, will still be available to you.

So, I encourage you and others who may be facing the same situation to stick it out, plan a meeting with your professor to let them know you are struggling, and take advantage of support services, like the Academic Research Center, that Mercer has to offer.

Don’t give up, don’t give in, and remember, at some point, you will be walking across that stage and accepting your degree. When you do, you will know that despite the struggles or obstacles, you advocated for yourself, and you were successful.

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your academic journey.

Kelly Browning, student success coordinator at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.

Feature photo by Mercer University


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