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Losing Financial Aid for Unsatisfactory Academic Progress

Find out why getting Cs and Ds could lead to a loss of financial aid.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

April 19, 2021

Can you lose your financial aid just for getting bad grades? Yes -- learn more.
Losing Financial Aid for Unsatisfactory Academic Progress
Some students in college have found out the hard way that getting good grades literally pays. In the world of higher education, academics and financial aid go hand-in-hand. One must keep their grades satisfactory in order to maintain their financial aid package.

Satisfactory versus Unsatisfactory Grades

To be eligible for federal student aid and college financial aid, a student must be making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). This generally consists of maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale (i.e., at least a C average) and passing enough classes with progress toward a degree. About one in ten college students will have a cumulative GPA that is less than 2.0 on a 4.0 scale.

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Scholarships also have satisfactory academic progress requirements. Oftentimes, these requirements are even stricter than university policies. Many private scholarships require recipients to maintain a higher GPA.

Implications of Unsatisfactory Academic Progress (i.e., Bad Grades)

If a student loses financial aid for a failure to maintain satisfactory academic progress, the student may be able to regain eligibility by getting better grades. Until then, however, the student will be ineligible for financial aid and will have to pay for the college costs on his or her own.

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The student will be ineligible for all forms of federal student aid, including all types of federal education loans. Some students who are ineligible for federal student aid will borrow from private student loan programs, but this can be rather expensive.

Exceptions to the Rule

In some cases a student may be able to appeal for a temporary waiver of the satisfactory academic progress rules. These circumstances include when the failure to make satisfactory academic progress was due to injury or illness of the student, death of a relative of the student, or other special circumstances.

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The appeal should not only document the special circumstances (e.g., a letter from the student’s doctor) and explain how the circumstances affected the student’s performance, but also explain what has changed which will allow the student’s performance to improve. However, these are the only circumstances in which a student may fight to regain financial aid eligibility. A family’s financial circumstances will not help alleviate the suspension. Students lose eligibility for federal student aid if they are no longer maintaining satisfactory academic progress, regardless of financial need. There are no special exceptions to the satisfactory academic progress requirements for low-income students. This is unfortunate, because low-income students often lack the resources to continue paying for college on their own without financial aid, not even for a semester or two. Low-income students are also unlikely to qualify for private student loans. Students should always file an appeal if the failure to maintain satisfactory academic progress is due to extenuating circumstances. If a low-income student cannot afford to pay for tuition without financial aid, the student should ask the college about taking classes at a local community college. If these classes are accepted for credit by the student’s college, it will help the student regain eligibility at much lower cost. There is also a loophole in the rules concerning satisfactory academic progress that may allow a student to regain eligibility for financial aid by changing majors or degree programs or by transferring to another college. Depending on the college’s policies, classes that don’t count toward the new major may be excluded from the determination of satisfactory academic progress. This can effectively reset the student’s eligibility for federal student aid.

What You Should Know Before Going to College

It is a good idea to start by reading the college’s satisfactory academic progress policy, which can be found on the college’s website or course catalog. The college’s financial aid office can also provide a copy of the policy upon request. It’s also important for students to know the best practices of their school before they begin classes. For instance, at a larger school, attendance is rarely taken. However, at smaller schools, attendance is not only taken each meeting; it’s part of the letter grade. It doesn’t matter how well a student performs on tests or essays, if he or she is rarely in class, it will bring their grade – and their GPA – down. Being prepared with what your school expects of you ahead of time will lessen the chances of you falling below unsatisfactory academic progress and losing financial aid or scholarships. So far as you can help it, work hard to keep your academic standing and attendance within the acceptable range. Most importantly, ask for help if you feel like your grades or understanding are slipping. Colleges are dedicated to helping their students become better; your school will not hesitate to help you find what and who you need in order to perform successfully!

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