Frequently asked questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions about academic planning by UW students. If you can't find the answer you are looking for below or in our other academic planning pages, you can schedule an appointment through our appointment scheduler, by calling (206) 543-2550, or by stopping by 141 Mary Gates Hall.
How many courses should I take?
If you want to attend full-time, you should sign up for a schedule of courses that totals 12-17 credits. If you are on financial aid, or are an international student, or a student athlete, you must register for at least 12 credits.
What is a credit?
You earn credit by completing courses. In general, one credit represents one hour in class per week. Many UW courses are 5 credits, and meet 5 hours per week. Most UW bachelor degrees require 180 credits. If you take 15 credits per quarter and attend three quarters per year, in four years you will have 180 credits.
How many credits/courses should I take?
For most new students, a normal courseload is usually 12 -17 credits or three to four courses: two to three 5-credit courses, plus a third course that is anything from 2 credits to 5 credits.
How much time will I spend studying/doing homework for class?
College courses require much more study time than high school courses. In general, courses require two hours of homework for every hour of class. So, a 15-credit load should end up taking about 45 hours of time per week (15 hours of class time plus 30 hours of homework).
If classes last an hour, how much time do I have to get to the next class?
Actually the University "hour" is 50 minutes, and you have 10 minutes to get to the next class if you're taking courses one right after another. Some classes meet for longer than 50 minutes, though - especially labs. And some classes meet for two long sessions each week instead of five hour-long sessions.
How do I find classes based on General Education Requirements (VLPA, I&S, etc)?
The MyPlan course search tool can help you find open general education courses that are open and are at the time you need. For example, if you want to take an Individuals and Societies (I&S) course, but don’t know exactly which one, you can search for all open I&S courses between selected times and find out all your options.
What is the grading system at the UW?
UW uses numerical grades, starting with 4.0 as the top grade and 0.0 the lowest. There are also pass-fail options.
Is there a set standard for assigning grades?
No. Each instructor determines what standards to use in a particular class. Some instructors may give a 4.0 grade to all students they think have done excellent work in the class, even if that's a substantial percent of the entire class. Other instructors grade on a bell curve, which means that more students end up with a grade in the middle, while a smaller percent receive either a very high or very low grade. The course syllabus, an outline of what's assigned and expected for the quarter, should be distributed the first week, and will include information on grading standards in the course.
How important are grades?
It depends on how you intend to use them. If you plan to attend graduate or professional school, you'll need high grades (among other things) to get into better schools. Chances are, though, your future won't hinge on your getting a 3.83 rather than a 3.62 GPA.
What's a GPA?
Grade Point Average. If you take three 5-credit courses and get a 3.6 in one, a 2.8 in one, and a 3.2 in the third, your GPA for that quarter will be 3.20. Grades are weighted by the number of credits in the course, so that a 2-credit course affects your GPA less than a 5-credit course.
How often are grades given?
Grades that appear on your UW record are given at the end of each quarter. Within the quarter, each instructor may assign grades for papers, midterm exams, class participation, etc. The syllabus should show how various grades will be used to assign the final grade for the quarter. In one course, you may have a single final exam that determines your entire grade for the quarter, while in another course you could have weekly assignments or "quizzes" which, along with a midterm and a final exam, will add up to 100% of the final grade.
How will I find out what my grades are?
Your grades will appear in MyUW about a week after your final examinations.
Will I be dropped from the UW if my grades are too low?
As long as you maintain at least a 2.00 GPA, you won't be in danger of being dropped. Even if you don't do well your first quarter, you'll have two more quarters to improve before you're dropped from school. For further information about what happens if your GPA does fall below 2.00, see the Finding Help page.
Is there a way to avoid the constant pressure of grades?
There are two ways.
The first is internal. Instead of worrying incessantly about what grade you might get in a specific class, concentrate on learning the material and getting help if you need it. Also, in your first few quarters at the UW you should make a real effort to discover what academic area interests you the most, instead of concentrating on what you think you need to do to get a job after college — or what your parents think you need to do. In the long run, you'll be much more successful in college, and after college, if you discover what you're interested in and take classes related to that interest.
The second is external, tied to the UW grading system. You can take a few courses on what we call the "Satisfactory/Not Satisfactory" (S/NS) grading option, and they will not be calculated into your GPA. Be sure to see an adviser before deciding on this option. You can't take any courses you want to count toward requirements this way, and only a limited number of S/NS credits may count toward a degree. Also, some graduate and professional schools don't look favorably on S/NS grades.
Once I'm in a class, am I stuck with it no matter how hard it is or how far behind I get?
No. You can "drop" a class, but this should never be done lightly for several reasons. First, there may be other options (e.g., talk to the professor and/or TA; change to S/NS grading; ask for an Incomplete; petition for a hardship withdrawal, etc.). Second, you are restricted to one annual drop per year beginning week of of the quarter. Third, there may be financial penalties if you go below full-time status. Fourth, although a drop or two will not affect your chances for graduate or professional school, if you make a habit of dropping classes you might have to explain it later. Before exercising this option, be sure to see an adviser and/or read over the Course Drop Policy.
What happens if I can't finish the quarter for whatever reason?
You can withdraw for the quarter (unless the quarter is already over, which is too late). Dropping out for the quarter is not the same as dropping an individual class, and has different implications, so always discuss this option with an adviser. The adviser can help you plan how to withdraw from school with the fewest complications (such as failing grades) and also show you how to get back in as soon as you're ready to return. If you are withdrawing because of a hardship, you should consider petitioning for a hardship withdrawal.
Learn about different registration restrictions you may encounter.
When will I register for classes?
Each quarter you attend the UW. There are three quarters in the academic year (autumn, winter, and spring), plus summer quarter if you wish to attend then as well. Courses you register for last only one quarter (normally 10 weeks plus finals). You register for the next quarter about halfway through the current quarter; so, if you are starting school in autumn, you'll register for winter quarter about halfway through autumn. Your registration date is based on your class standing and the registration date will appear in MyUW. You can also find your registration date by looking at the UW Academic Calendar.
The class I want is full, is there a way to see when it will become available again?
You can sign up for Notify UW to receive a text message or email when space becomes available in a course you are interested in during the quarter registration process
Contact department advisers
Sometimes they know if the department plans to add space to the course, or if the instructor is taking a waiting list. Department advisers also usually know when in the future the course will be offered again.
Some instructors maintain waiting lists, although this isn’t common. Sometimes instructors will “overload” you into the course—although they aren’t required to overload, and most won’t do so until the quarter starts and they can see what the demand is. Some courses and some instructors never overload—but it never hurts to ask.
The class I want is full, can I still attend class the first day of school?
If you're the only student who wants an overload, your chances are good. Even if you're not the only student, if you go to class (so you don't miss material) and keep an eye on the online time schedule, you'll often find that someone drops the class in the first few days. There is a lot of schedule changing going on during the first few days of the quarter. Keep in mind that some departments and/or instructors don't overload. Check the department listings below to see each department's general policy regarding overloads.
The class I want is full but it is "jointly-offered", what does that mean?
Some UW courses are "jointly offered," which means one course is offered under two names. You can enroll in a jointly-offered course under either title, and there may be registration restrictions under one title but not under the other, or one may be full while the other is still open.