Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.
If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably found yourself in or on the brink of a situation most student loan holders don’t want to be in: being placed on academic probation.
You may have a vague recollection of a clause about “satisfactory academic progress” in the pages of legalese you read when you completed the FAFSA, but what does that actually mean? How worried should you actually be about not making the grade this semester? How far of a jump is it between academic probation and flunking out?
There are probably a million other questions on your mind right now, but don’t worry -- we’re here to answer your biggest questions about the FAFSA and academic probation.
This guide covers everything you need to know to survive academic probation, including:
- Defining satisfactory vs. unsatisfactory academic progress
- How academic probation affects your financial aid
- Getting your grades up on academic probation
- Worst case scenario: dismissal from school
So take a deep breath, and let’s get started.
Unsatisfactory Progress & Academic Probation
Decoding What FAFSA Has to Say About Financial Aid Eligibility
First thing’s first -- what is academic probation, and what exactly causes you to be placed on academic probation? Academic probation typically refers to a grace period granted to students who fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” at their school or in their degree program.
According to the Federal Office of Student Aid, there are several factors that contribute to satisfactory vs. unsatisfactory academic progress:
- Maintaining a certain grade-point average (or equivalent)
- Completing enough courses or credits each year or semester
- Withdrawing from a class or withdrawing from a program
- Incomplete classes
- Changing majors
- Transferring schools
With approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States as of the 2019-2020 school year, it would be impossible to list the exact requirements for every school in the nation here.
For many schools, satisfactory academic progress will mean completing 12 to 18 credits per semester and maintaining a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
To find the requirements at your specific college or university, check your school’s website or contact someone in the financial aid office to learn the ins and outs of your school’s policy.
So where does academic probation come in? At most schools if your progress dips into the unsatisfactory range, you won’t be dismissed right away. Many schools give you a semester to get your grades back on track. That’s academic probation.
Students on academic probation will be notified by their school, typically by email or paper mail -- possibly both. You can also reach out to your school’s financial aid office if you have questions or concerns.
Academic Probation & Financial Aid Eligibility
The Way Academic Probation Affects Your Financial Aid is Ultimately Depends on Your School’s Policy
So you’ve landed on academic probation. From here, there are a few different things that can happen to your financial aid. Once again, checking your school’s website or contacting someone from the financial aid office will help you understand how to proceed, but here’s what you can expect to hear:
If being placed on academic probation does NOT affect your financial aid eligibility, breathe a (slight) sigh of relief. You aren’t entirely off the hook -- you will have to get your grades up to get off of academic probation -- but you aren’t immediately at risk of losing federal financial aid for the semester.
If being placed on academic probation DOES affect your financial aid eligibility, it’s especially important to start a conversation with your school’s financial aid office. At some schools, you may be able to appeal the decision to halt financial aid, giving you a second chance to convince your school that you should receive federal financial aid for the semester.
If you aren’t able to get the decision overturned, it’s important to explore other ways of financing your semester to make sure you’re prepared to cover the costs of the semester. Depending on your situation, this can include:
- Applying for scholarships and grants
- Applying for private student loans
- Planning to pay the difference out of pocket
A Guide to Overcoming Academic Probation
Tips for Boosting Your GPA and Getting Off of Academic Probation Before It Takes Too Big a Toll on the Price Tag of Your Education
If you’ve been put on academic probation, chances are something about your study habits isn’t working out. Academic probation isn’t the end of the world, but it is serious -- and if you’re serious about boosting your GPA, getting off of academic probation, and creating a better balance in your college life, consider these tips.
1. Choose your classes carefully (if you can)
Getting into “good” classes can be tricky -- at many schools, there’s some variety of lottery system that dictates when students are able to choose classes, and depending on your spot you may not be left with the best options to choose from. So how can you set yourself up for success?
First, make sure you take advantage of the add drop period. Even if you don’t plan on taking the maximum number of credits possible, grabbing a seat in all of your top choice classes and then dropping ones that might not be a good fit (or even just aren’t a good fit right now) can help you build a schedule and a workload you’re confident you can manage all semester long.
In certain degree programs, you might not have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to choosing classes. If you have a six credit pillar course that’s only offered once a year, you’ll probably just have to sign up for that class. But if you do have some choice in what classes you take, be sure to:
- Knock out a few electives. Still need to take an art elective, or maybe a physical education credit? Padding your schedule with an elective or two is a great way to force some balance into your school schedule -- after all, creative activities and working out are both great ways to reduce stress in college. Plus, intro level electives won’t be as intensive or require as much work, giving you more time to study for courses in your major and to focus on raising your GPA.
- Keep an eye out for signs of trouble. Not all college courses are created equal, and there are several college course red flags you should keep an eye out for during add/drop to save yourself from struggling down the line.
- Take classes with good professors. An interesting elective taught by a tough professor is going to be way more stressful than a less interesting class taught by a great professor. Ask around your department, check your school’s subreddit or Rate My Professors, and think back on other classes you’ve taken -- who do you want to be grading your assignments this semester?
2. Read the syllabus and create a plan.
Part of the reason making the grade can be tricky is that every class has different requirements. Syllabus week is often considered a time to relax and zone out -- after all, most of the information is the same in every class, right? -- but if you’re on academic probation it can be helpful to tune in and take note of how you’ll be graded.
Figuring out what you need to succeed and setting realistic goals from the start of the semester will help you get on track early and stay there. It’s way easier to shoot for an 80% or higher on every homework assignment than to get to the final exam and find out you need to pull a 132% to pass the class.
3. Review your study habits.
Unfortunately for busy college students everywhere, cramming is not a sustainable study method or a good way to make sure information sticks in your brain. If you’ve landed on academic probation, now is a great time to ask yourself if your study habits are truly working for you.
Different things work for different people -- some people study with the background noise of a cafeteria or library, others prefer complete quiet. As you review your study habits, be sure to consider:
- WHERE you are able to study most effectively? Does studying in your dorm allow you to relax and get through more material, or is the temptation of curling up for a nap or hanging out with your roommate too strong? Pinpointing a few places where you are able to focus will help you get more out of your study sessions.
- WHEN do you have time to study? It can be tempting to try to squeeze studying in on the fly, but blocking it into your schedule the way you would a class or extracurricular can help you make sure studying doesn't get overlooked.
- WHO should be in your study support network? This doesn’t necessarily have to be just people in your class. Friends in your degree program, roomies in another major who like to sit and study in the same place as you, school counselors, and more can fit into this category.
- HOW can study the material so it actually sticks? Maybe you need solo study time, or more structured review time during a professor’s office hours. Perhaps you’re a flashcards kind of person, or maybe you learn best by writing your notes out by hand.
If you’re feeling stuck, consider reaching out to your school’s counselors for support. Not only can they connect you with academic resources that may not be on your radar, they may also be able to administer assessments that help you find out what kind of learner you are, which will let you tailor your study habits to your learning style.
4. Build relationships in your classes.
Think of each course as a community -- you aren’t there to learn the material alone! There are lots of people around you who can help you master the material and make learning a little less boring than just poring over the pages of your textbook for hours each night.
Building relationships with the people in your classes can mean many things. Try:
- Showing up for class -- hopefully this one is a no-brainer!
- Participating in person or via email, class chat board, etc.
- Stopping into your professor or teaching assistant’s office hours
- Attending review sessions
- Swapping numbers with a few people in your class in case you miss a class or don’t catch something in lecture
- Creating a study group
Dealing with Dismissal & Financial Aid
What to Do If You’re Dismissed Due to Poor Academic Performance
At most colleges and universities, students can’t stay in the middle ground of academic probation for very long -- typically, it lasts one or two semesters, tops. Students whose academic performance doesn’t improve will likely find themselves facing dismissal.
So what if the worst happens and you’re dismissed from your academic program?
Being dismissed due to poor academic performance doesn’t mean that you can’t finish your degree -- it doesn’t even mean that you can’t return to your school.
At most schools, you can reapply down the line if you’re dismissed. Generally speaking, this means taking at least a semester off of school. Depending on your school’s policy, you might be able to appeal the decision. You also have the option of applying to other institutions, which may allow you to continue your education more quickly.
It is important to note that an academic dismissal will likely show up on your college transcript, whether you choose to return to your school or pursue your degree at another institution.
Regaining eligibility for financial aid will look different from school to school -- you might be required to complete a semester without aid or on academic probation depending on your situation.
To find out for sure what regaining eligibility for financial aid looks like at your school in your situation, be sure to contact someone from your school’s financial aid office.
There you have it -- the savvy student’s FAFSA & academic probation survival guide.
Not making the grade is stressful enough as it is, but it gets a whole lot more complicated when it affects your financial aid eligibility. Luckily at many institutions, being placed on academic probation does not mean that you automatically lose your federal financial aid -- and if it does, you might be able to appeal the decision.
We hope that this guide has answered some of your questions about financial aid and academic probation and has given you the next steps to take if you find yourself facing academic probation.
Still need some answers? Drop us a line and let us know! We’ll try to cover your additional questions in future updates of this article.