Academic Probation in College: What It Is and How to Get Back on Track

ASO Staff Writers
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Updated August 15, 2023
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Why it Happens & How to Get Back on Track

If you’ve been struggling academically and find yourself on academic probation, you’re not alone — around 20 percent of college freshman at four-year colleges end up in a similar situation. Receiving a notice of academic probation can be a huge blow to your confidence, but it can also have serious academic and financial consequences. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to signal the end of your college career. Many factors can lead to academic probation, and there are a variety of ways students can improve their academic performance and successfully earn their degrees.

What is Academic Probation?

Colleges have specific criteria for student enrollment, like minimum GPA and credit load requirements. If students don’t meet those criteria, they may be put on academic probation. Academic probation is a period of time in which students must improve their academic standing by meeting or making evident progress toward their school’s eligibility criteria.

Students on academic probation typically have to:

The school will check in periodically to evaluate the student’s progress and, at the end of the period, determine whether the student can:

Academic probation isn’t meant to be a punishment, but a warning or wake-up call. However, it can have serious consequences, especially for those who don’t get back in good academic standing. Students on academic probation may:

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How it Can Impact Your Financial Aid

Many forms of financial aid require students to be in good academic standing. Since academic probation is a warning that students aren’t in good standing, they risk losing some or all of their financial aid. For example, the Pell Grant is initially distributed based on a student’s financial need, but students cannot renew the grant unless they are making satisfactory academic progress.

Losing financial aid can make it difficult or impossible for some students to finish their degrees. However, students can become re-eligible for financial aid with some effort.

In order to remain eligible or become re-eligible for financial aid, students must show they are working toward good standing. What schools consider “satisfactory” in terms of academic progress can vary, but students usually must:

Students who lose their financial aid may have to appeal to their school to become eligible and start receiving financial aid again. Students can talk to their academic advisors or financial aid office to get details about the appeals process and to find out how often their school will evaluate their progress.

Why Students End Up on Academic Probation

The ways students can end up on academic probation are varied and numerous. Recognizing common causes of academic probation can help students avoid future slip-ups and work toward improving their academic habits.

How to Get Off Academic Probation

Getting off academic probation can be daunting, but it’s very possible for students willing to commit to their educations. The process for getting off academic probation varies between schools and can even vary from student to student, so it’s important to carefully follow your school’s policy. Here are some common requirements:

Maintain a Specific Grade Point Average

Minimum GPA requirements usually must be met to get off academic probation. Schools often have two GPA policies for students on academic probation:

OVERALL GPA POLICY

The most common overall GPA requirement is a 2.0. This means that a student’s cumulative GPA from all terms, excluding grades received from other institutions, must be at least 2.0 at the end of each semester or quarter.

For many students on academic probation, raising their GPA to their school’s specified minimum requirement is not possible in a single term (or the designated time frame), which can be intimidating. This is where noting the school’s term, semester or quarter GPA policy can be helpful.

TERM GPA POLICY

Along with making progress toward meeting the overall GPA requirements, students often must also meet term GPA requirements. Term GPA is the cumulative grade received at the end of a given academic term.

If a student is on academic probation because of a low overall GPA, maintaining a good term GPA can extend their probationary period, even if it won’t raise their overall GPA enough to reach the minimum requirement. While extending the probationary period might not sound like a good thing, it’s really a way a school acknowledges that the student is making an effort to improve their academic standing, and it keeps the student from being dismissed from the school entirely.

It’s important for students to note that GPA requirements can vary between academic programs within a single college. For instance, both the overall and term GPA minimums at Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is 2.0. The university’s W.P. Carey School of Business, however, notes that students must have a 2.5 term GPA to get an additional semester of academic probation. If students don’t reach the overall GPA minimum of 2.0 after the extension period, they may be disqualified from the business school.

Time Frames

Students can expect their schools’ academic probation guidelines to include a specific time frame in which to improve their standing. These timelines vary. For instance, Texas State University gives students two semesters to get their coursework in order, while Arizona State University and UC Berkeley’s College of Letters and Sciences give their students one semester.

Knowing how much time they have to improve their academic standing can help students plan a schedule that is both manageable and able to get them off probation. Students can find time frame details in their notice of academic probation, on their school’s website or from an academic advisor.>

Other Requirements

Students may also be required to meet with their academic advisors, take an academic probation course, create a success plan or get teachers to sign off on their academic performance. It’s crucial that students are aware of all the steps they need to take and if there are specific deadlines by which the steps need to be completed, or they risk their position at school.

Tips for Improving Your Academic Performance

Getting off academic probation requires students to change the way they handle their education. While adjustment isn’t always easy, these tips can help smooth the process.

Schools give students a predetermined length of time to complete the course and receive a final grade. If students don’t do anything, they are usually given a failing grade. Putting in the time to work with professors and turn in any coursework for incompletes is a smart choice.

How to Stay Off Probation

Academic probation can be a good indicator that students need to step up their effort or change the way they approach their educations. It can also serve as a good opportunity for students to develop new habits that can help keep them from another probationary period. Students can try out these steps to help keep themselves in good academic standing.

How to Talk About It

While academic probation isn’t a punishment, it is a very serious issue, and getting that notification from school can be stressful and disheartening. Students and parents alike may be worried or disappointed but being open and honest can help reduce any feelings of shame and help students get back on track.

What is the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA)?

FERPA is a federal law that determines who has access to students’ academic records. Until a student turns 18 or enters a postsecondary institution, FERPA grants their parents access to their educational records. After that point, the FERPA rights transfer to the student, restricting the information that is available to parents.

The records protected under FERPA include anything related to a student’s academic performance, like grades, transcripts, course schedules, financial information and discipline files. Notice of academic probation falls under FERPA’s protection, so unless students waive their FERPA rights, their parents will not be automatically notified.

FAQs

Expert Joel Ingersoll answers some of the most commonly asked academic probation questions. Students should note, however, that every school has different policies for academic probation, so they should confirm any details with their academic advisor.

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