One of the most confusing parts of the higher ed process is applying for and receiving financial aid. When filling out a financial aid application, we usually focus on what it takes to get the money, not to keep it.

When speaking to your academic advisor, make sure to ask questions about your college GPA and how failing or dropping a course could cause you to lose your financial aid.

Most students know very little about the role their college GPA plays in keeping them funded while in school. Although the guidelines often vary slightly from school to school, we have put together some general information to use as a “rule of thumb.”

What is SAP?

Before starting college, Macie knew of “sap” as something sticky that falls from trees. In college, SAP is an acronym that stands for satisfactory academic progress, and it has nothing to do with plant survival.

It does, however, relate to school survival. This is something Macie found out the hard way.

Federal financial aid, including Pell grants and other certain loans, requires that students make satisfactory academic progress while enrolled in school in order to keep their funding.

Usually, this means maintaining a 2.0 college grade point average. A 2.0 GPA is a “C” average and isn’t ideal, but it is typically good enough to keep the cash flowing for undergraduate students.

For those in graduate programs, the bar is often set much higher. Usually, grad students must maintain a 3.0 or higher.

Which brings us back to Macie, who made two Ds during her first semester and was shocked to learn that her financial aid was in jeopardy.

After all, a D isn’t a failing grade. What she didn’t consider is that D’s can tank her overall GPA. This is why it’s so important to use a financial aid calculator to keep track of where you are.

What Happens if My Grades Drop?

If your cumulative grade point average dips below a 2.0, you will no longer be considered to be in good academic standing. If this is the case for you, it’s likely that you have been (or will be) placed on academic probation.

This is a “watch period” in which financial aid is not usually lost. If this is where you are in the process, don’t be afraid to reach out to your academic advisor for help. Many schools have “fresh start” programs and success coaches that can assist students who are having trouble with keeping up their grade point average..

Once you have made it through another semester and raised your GPA, your probationary status should lift. However, if you fail to improve your grades to a satisfactory number, you will be at risk of being given a ‘warning’ which can affect the funding you receive. The third semester with a not so great GPA equals not only losing your financial aid but also being suspended or dismissed from school altogether.

Did you know that if you fail a class that financial aid paid for, this could create a balance on your account? This could result in you being responsible for paying the school back the course cost.

Of course, grant and loan types vary, as do the consequences for poor performance. For this reason, you should make sure that you understand all of the warning periods associated with your particular aid type.

What If I Fail a Class?

There is a second way that your financial aid can be affected by course GPA and this is when you actually fail a class. If you’ve received an F, most schools review your participation to see if you failed because you struggled with the content or if you simply didn’t try. If you participated less than 60% of the time (percentage may vary by school,) you could be at risk of owing your college the cost of the course.

This means that even if you have a GPA that is high enough to withstand one “F-bomb,” you could still lose your financial aid. For this reason, it’s usually better to drop a class early on than to stop participating and take a failing grade.

What Can I Do?

If you are worried about losing your financial aid because of problems with academic performance, now is not the time to bury your head in the sand. Like Macie from above, you will need to be proactive and explore all options for retaining satisfactory academic progress.

After talking to her guidance counselor, she was able to get pinpoint some of the obstacles that caused her to do poorly the first go-round. By cutting back her hours at her part-time job and hiring a tutor, Macie was able to pass the following semester with honors.

Other best practices include:

  • Do your homework (literally and figuratively).
    Call or email your academic advisor and ask them for specifics on your school’s rules regarding GPA and financial aid. Ask questions about how often your progress will be evaluated, how incomplete classes will affect you, and what will happen if you fall below SAP levels. Then, work as hard as you can to make sure that you meet the minimum requirements needed to avoid suspension and/or loss of funding.

  • Come up with a game plan.
    Once you know how high of a bar your school has set for you, you’ll be able to come up with a plan for academic success. As simple as it seems, the act of writing down each step you plan can be the difference between failure and success. Take some time to think about actionable steps to improve your academic standing. This might include meeting with a guidance counselor, finding a tutor, or taking part in a college readiness course.

  • Appeal if needed.
    If your less-than-stellar college GPA is due to extenuating circumstances, you can try to appeal. Just like GPA requirements, every university’s appeal process varies. However, there are certain situations like being called away to serve in the military or a serious illness that can help you qualify for another shot.

If you’re at risk of losing your financial assistance because of your academic performance, do not be afraid to reach out for help. A mistake that many students make is being too ashamed to share with anyone. This creates a cycle of failure that often leads to academic suspension.

It’s never too late to turn things around. Reread the bullets above and then reach out to your advisor for guidance. He or she is one of your best sources of support when it comes to academic success and will be glad to be in your corner.

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