You may have misjudged the time you had available to take your online courses or you found that online learning is simply not for you. You may hate your instructor or have had a hard time motivating yourself. Mostly, students drop classes because life gets in the way of learning. Let's face it: things happen.
You are not interested in the course work.
When you find you just hate online learning so much that you dread doing the work, it might be time to reconsider your goals. If you are doing well, finish out the term and then drop out. You can always get your transcript sent to another school, get credit for your work and use the credit towards something else. If you are not doing well, drop out immediately and let the school know that you withdrew for personal reasons. The school can't press you for more information. If you do drop out in the middle of a term, you will generally see "W" on your transcripts. Future employers may ask about them, so be prepared to explain your actions.
You are not getting along with your instructor.
If you find you are having trouble with your current instructor and aren't learning anything, you have two choices: talk to the instructor or your academic advisor and see if you can resolve the problem or drop out of that course and take it from a different instructor later. If you find that all the instructors, department or the program is not living up to your expectations, you should finish the term and then drop out. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the student and the school. That's okay; just minimize the damage to your transcript by finishing out the term and avoiding "F's."
You have fallen far behind in your work.
What if life gets in the way and you find yourself way behind for one semester? Do you: beg for mercy from the instructor; cram all weekend and catch up; just ignore the missed work; take the bad grade and move on; or drop out? How do you decide?
Am I ready to get back on track?
First, ask yourself this question before contemplating continuing. If you are, then take stock of the work you have completed or not completed. Sometimes you may have only missed reading assignments or a few discussion postings. If so, and you can easily get back on track. List out the things you need to do, call or e-mail your instructor with a plan of completion, and get back on track.
What if I'm not able to make up the work?
If you find you can't spend the weekend or the next week making up your work because you are too emotionally drained or you've missed too much, you have a couple of options: calling your professor or checking to see if there is an incomplete option. Some schools offer instructors the option of giving you an incomplete and letting you catch up without re-enrolling or paying more money. Generally, you and your instructor figure out a plan to complete the online course in a specific time. This option is especially important when you've missed the university deadline to withdraw from class and get a refund.
Sometimes the amount of work you've missed or the reasons you didn't do your work may make it physically or emotionally impossible to complete your course. When this happens, it may be too difficult to catch up. Now is the time to drop your course, for whatever reason. It's better to have a mark on your transcript indicating a withdrawn or dropped online course than it is to have an "F".
Expect to explain the situation in an interview.
Dropping an online course certainly isn't the end of the world and they are generally not calculated in your grade point average. Seeing an incomplete or two on your transcript may raise an eyebrow during a job interview or review so be prepared to explain it. A simple "I was hospitalized," or "my grandmother passed away suddenly" is enough explanation. A "W" illustrates that there was something in your life more important than school at that moment. An "F" says you failed to take your school work seriously.
Find out if you're eligible to take the course again or receive a reimbursement.
All universities have different withdrawal processes — some let you withdraw right up until finals week with the option of repeating the class free. Some only let you withdraw before mid-terms and then give you a sliding refund scale. It's best to check with your school to know your options. Most schools will refund at least part of your money or allow you to repeat the course without paying again if you can provide a documented reason. A note from your grandmother's doctor or your own doctor can be proof enough.
Talk to your instructor about your decision.
Finally, if you do decide to drop your online program, let your instructor know via e-mail. As hard as it is to write an e-mail saying "I dropped the course because there were too many assignments," it is important to give that feedback. Instructors need to know when it's something they did or didn't do.
Dropping out of an online program is not the end of your college career. Sometimes taking time out to work through personal situations may help you refocus your efforts and do better next time. So, when there is a roadblock in the road, take the alternate route and get back on track as soon as possible.