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Can Bad Grades Affect Your Financial Aid?

Satisfactory 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.

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 C average, and passing enough classes with progress toward a degree, though many colleges will give you an extra semester to get your grades back up.

Scholarships also have satisfactory academic progress requirements. Oftentimes, these requirements are even stricter than universities' because many private scholarships require recipients to maintain a higher GPA.

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

Special Circumstances Exceptions

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. 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 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. 

Paying for College Through Academic Struggles 

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.

Getting Back on Track 

You may feel embarrassed, or afraid of being judged, but many, many students struggle in college.  It will be difficult to turn things around, especially without financial aid, but your college, your mentor, and so many other people are rooting for you, and there are a lot of resources out there if you ask for help.