Withdrawal Under Extenuating Circumstances (WE)

How does a WE work?

Extenuating Circumstance Definition

Extenuating Circumstances are defined as “UNEXPECTED and UNCONTROLLABLE events that seriously threaten (the student’s) academic obligations; (and) make it difficult to complete an academic program (course[s]). These should be taken care of before the end of term whenever possible.

All students are bound by the Student Declaration. Click here to learn more.

The dominant principles governing the Withdrawal Under Extenuating Circumstances (WE) process are fairness and equity. The university is prepared to help students who experience unexpected and uncontrollable events that seriously threaten their academic obligations. But in doing so, the University must be careful not to disadvantage students who continue their studies when faced with similar circumstances. The University has the sole discretion to approve WE applications.

Withdrawal requests may be complete or selective, in-semester or retroactive.

  1. Complete Withdrawal
    Since the reasons for a WE request are likely to have a pervasive influence on a student’s academic performance, they will typically affect all the courses in which a student is enrolled. For this reason, most WE requests are for a complete withdrawal from all courses in a term.
  2. Selective Withdrawal
    Occasionally, however, circumstances may be such that not all courses are affected, in which case the request is for a selective withdrawal. Students applying for a selective withdrawal must specify the reasons why one course is affected but another is not.
  3. Retroactive Withdrawal
    This occurs after the term is over and your grades are posted. Occasionally, circumstances may not allow a withdrawal before the term has ended, in which case procedures for retroactive withdrawal under extenuating circumstances may be used.


It is not possible to lay down clear rules specifying precisely how  WE applications will be assessed because the reasons for such requests  are so varied. However, the following criteria are stated in a manner intended to help students determine whether they are eligible to apply for a withdrawal under extenuating circumstances.

  1. Medical Grounds: Students have grounds for a WE request if they suffer a medical condition during the term which so impairs their ability to study that course requirements cannot be satisfied. Hospitalization for a week or more is almost certain to be regarded as sufficient evidence, while a short bout of the flu is likely to be insufficient. Students should seek counselling or advising assistance early in the term, so they can adjust their academic schedules if necessary. Withdrawal requests arising from failure to manage academic priorities will not be accepted as reasons for a WE.
  2. Employment Grounds: Students have grounds for a WE request if they experience an unexpected change in conditions of employment that is so disrupting that course requirements cannot be completed. Sudden increases in employment hours interfering with studies is likely to be sufficient evidence for a withdrawal, while a requirement to work occasional overtime is most likely to be insufficient.
  3. Compassionate Grounds: Students have grounds for a WE request if they have a traumatic experience that renders them unfit to complete course requirements during the term. The death of an immediate family member may be regarded as a sufficient reason.
  4. Other Grounds: Most WE applications are based on medical, compassionate, or employment related circumstances. However, other types of overwhelming personal difficulties such as divorce or family commitments may also be considered with the appropriate explanation and supporting documents.


Although most students requesting a WE have experienced academic difficulties in the course in question, the fear of a poor grade is not,  in and of itself, acceptable as a basis for granting a withdrawal. The  assessment of a WE request is based on the nature and severity of the  reasons for the poor performance. It is important for students  requesting a selective withdrawal to keep this point in mind,  particularly where academic performance is weak in the course from which  withdrawal is sought and noticeably stronger in courses in which the  student wishes to stay enrolled. The following examples will generally NOT be considered as a basis for granting a withdrawal  (WE):

  • A class in which a PASS grade was achieved
  • A class that has been withdrawn with a WD notation
  • Students experiencing language difficulties
  • Students feel “the course was just too hard” (this is not an extenuating circumstance)
  • Administrative error in enrolling or withdrawing from a course
  • Issues with course delivery and assignment preparations
  • Academic standing
  • You are trying to get around departmental limitations on the number of attempts to repeat a given course without a new and legitimate extenuating circumstance.
  • Careless academic planning. Wrongfully registered and not dropped
  • Students having a conflict with their instructor/or other SFU staff 
  • Scheduling of course assignments
  • Grading practices
  • No longer requiring a course due to program requirements, or transfer credit approval
  • Any course with an academic integrity report filed in Student Services
  • Conferral of a degree or the approval of a degree by Senate

Students having problems because of these issues should speak to  their instructor or an advisor in the department offering the course. The reality is that all of these issues could be handled earlier through a course drop or withdrawal or proactive communication with your instructor or students services. A WE is intended as a tool for students who experience unforeseen hardship that could not be predicted before the add/drop deadline.

There is no substantial practical advantage to having a WE on your transcript as opposed to a WD!

Documentation Required

All appeals to withdrawal require a high standard of documentation that must accompany each application. At times, it may be necessary for  the Manager, Student Academic Appeals to verify the validity of any  documents submitted.  Some examples of required documents include:

  • An ICBC or a Police Report for motor vehicle accidents or crimes committed resulting in victim services;
  • Employment letters presented appropriately on business letterhead;
  • Illnesses that are overseas must be presented on proper hospital or medical reports normally available from a hospital or doctor’s office.

All compassionate withdrawals must include a copy of the death certificate, prayer card or obituary (proof of relationship may be  required). 
All documents must be presented in English and must be certified.

  1. Medical Documentation Students with a medical condition severe enough to warrant a WE request must have consulted with a medical practitioner and must document that consultation. A medical explanation documented on the SFU Health Care Provider Statement form must be attached to the WE application form. Students who did not see a doctor at the time of the accident or illness and cannot provide evidence to back up the explanation will not be awarded a withdrawal. A note on a prescription pad is not adequate documentation.  Health care providers need to present the information that is requested on the SFU Health Care form. Please DO NOT submit photos.
  2. Employment Documentation Students appealing on employment grounds must submit a letter outlining details about the employment circumstance from their employer. The letter must include information about the nature of the employment change, its date of onset and duration. This must be presented on business letterhead, dated and signed.
  3. Compassionate Grounds Documentation For students applying for a WE on compassionate grounds, such as the death of a loved one, evidence of the loss must be provided. For example, an obituary, death certificate and/or memorial program/card must be submitted (verification of relationship may be requested). Please DO NOT submit photos.
  4. Personal Letter WE applicants must write a clear and concise letter (no longer than two pages double-spaced or one page single-spaced and typed) staging the reason for why they are applying to withdraw. There should be a direct link between information presented in the cover letter and the supporting documents. A chronological list of relevant events is helpful when reviewing all requests. A vague cover letter accompanied by weak supporting documents or none at all will delay the outcome or result in a denied decision.


  1. Students who are considering a WE application, or require clarification about any of the rules, regulations and deadline dates in the academic calendar regarding withdrawals should consult with an academic advisor in Student Services, located in Maggie Benston, or speak to a department advisor from the faculty in which they are enrolled. Since these rules, regulations and deadline dates are an important component of a university program, students should know them.
  2. Once a decision is made to pursue a WE application, the package of information should be submitted to the Manager, Student Academic Appeals in Student and Academic Services. Each WE package includes: the WE Application Form, a personal letter outlining the extenuating circumstances and how it is affecting their academic studies and all supporting documents to back up the information in the personal letter. Most WE applications are adjudicated by the Manager, Student Academic Appeals.  However, when appropriate, the Manager, Student Academic Appeals, will forward WE requests to the Dean’s office of the student’s faculty.  It is the student’s responsibility to provide a clear explanation on why they are applying for this withdrawal and providing all necessary documents to back up an explanation so that the Faculty can make a fair assessment of the request being made.
  3. Due to the volume of requests, it is not possible to lay down a single time for how long it will take to adjudicate an application.  If supporting documents are delayed or not received, then no decision can be made on the withdrawal application and the applicant risks receiving a denied decision or having it returned unprocessed.
  4. Once a decision is made on a WE application, the Manager, Student Academic Appeals will change the withdrawal under extenuating circumstances (WE) notation and notify the student by email.  The notation “WE” will be placed on a student record in lieu of a course grade.  Please note that students are responsible to ensure their academic statuses are up to date by checking their student records on the Student Information System (SIMS).
  5. Requests submitted after the term deadline (last day of class), or requests relating to a course taken in a previous term, are referred to as “retroactive”. Requests that are for terms more than five years from the date of application will not be considered.


Students whose WE applications are denied and feel they have grounds for appealing a WE decision should refer to the Advocacy Office’s Page on Appeals and Appeal Letters and the Senate Appeals Board (SAB) for detailed information.

Frequently Asked Questions

I need a WE or I will lose my academic standing! What should I do?

If you have a legitimate case for a WE, go for it! Focus your on what happened and keep the drama out of the letter. Stick to the extenuating circumstances and what impacted you ability to complete the term. Why was one class impacted but not the others? Include a timeline of what happened when, what you did to try and help yourself, conversations with faculty and support services etc. Contact the Advocacy Office, the Ombudsperson, the Centre for Accessible Learning, the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Office or other relevant Units who assist Equity groups who may be able to help you directly, or work with WE on your behalf.

If you are simply having difficulty with your SFU courses, you need to make an appointment with an academic advisor as soon as possible. See sfu.ca/students/academicadvising/contact_us for information about how to book an appointment with an academic advisor. Detailed information regarding academic standings, policies associated with academic difficulty, and resources can be found here.

Perhaps you knew you were on academic probation and you tried so hard this term but you have a feeling that you didn’t quite make that minimum 2.00 term GPA that you needed to continue with your studies at SFU and are worried about being required to Withdraw! What do you do now?!

Option 1: Readmission

You can quickly apply to a local college and take transferable courses to meet the readmission requirements to return to SFU. The information for readmission will be mailed to you, but you can also access it online in the Guide to Academic Standing and Continuance.

It is strongly advised that you first meet with an academic advisor to discuss your academic standing and your course options at college. Contact Us for information about how to book an appointment with an academic advisor.

Option 2: SFU’s Back on Track Program

You can participate in the Student Success program, Back on Track (BOT) which will provide you with concentrated assistance from various professionals and resources to get yourself refocused on your studies. When you join the program, you will be placed on Extended Academic Probation (EAP), and will have the Required to Withdraw standing removed from your transcript. Interested in learning more about the program? Start with the Program Overview.

WHY do they make this so hard? Requiring so much documentation is a huge burden and an invasion of privacy!

The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate hardship has occurred. You may feel like the University should just trust a student in distress or difficulty and not add on additional burdens, but the reality is that changing grades is an academic concession and this documentation and rules are in place to ensure a level playing field for all students and to ensure WEs are not being taken advantage of or used unfairly. This is an act of Academic Integrity. The current policies are in place to ensure equity and procedural fairness and the staff and faculty are sticklers to these rules after seeing many cases of WE abuse over the years.

SFU Health Centre should not charge you for related medical forms and documentation, though other doctors off campus might.

Note that this policy will be up for review in the next year or so. If you have better ideas on how this could work, PLEASE share these with the Advocacy Office so we can push to make the process easier for students who really need it while also maintaining the academic standards of the University and the value of everyone’s degrees.

What happens if I make up or falsify evidence to support my request for a WE?

Please don’t go there. The officials in charge of WE take their jobs seriously and will confirm your evidence. If you are caught lying, you will be sent through the Academic Integrity process before the University Board of Student Discipline who have a broad range of powers, including recommending a student’s expulsion in eggregious situations.

Can I get my tuition refunded?

To receive a tuition refund for a withdrawal (WD) or withdrawal under extenuating circumstances (WE), begin here.

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