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Academic Probation (and what you can do about it)

No one goes to college with a goal of getting on academic warning, probation, or dismissal.  But the reality is that many students struggle to the point where they put themselves in danger of losing their financial aid, or being dismissed from school altogether.   

Read on to find out more, or skip to the suggestions for what to do if you find yourself on academic warning or probation.  

What is academic warning, probation, or dismissal?

Each university's policy is different, but academic warning or probation - are both warnings that the student’s performance falls below the institution’s requirement for “good academic standing”.  Academic standing is most often measured by GPA (grade point average), but may also be determined by academic progress, or the number of credits completed.  It is possible, at some schools, that a student may have a decent GPA, but may have dropped or withdrawn from too many courses during the semester. Many schools expect students to maintain a 2.0, or C average, although the acceptable GPA may be slightly lower for first-year students.  Academic dismissal is more serious - it means that the student has already been placed on warning and/or probation, and is now at serious risk of being kicked out of the college.  

Students may find themselves on academic warning or probation for a number of reasons.  Some students are unprepared for the difficulty of college work.  Some students have poor study habits and time management skills. Some students may be negatively influenced by peers or by campus culture.  They may be spending too much of their time socializing or drinking.  Students may be unmotivated or in a course of study that is too difficult or doesn’t interest them.  Some students simply do not want to be in college or have not become engaged in their college experiences. For some students, poor academic performance may be a symptom of greater problems. 

What happens if you're on academic probation?  

To be eligible for federal student aid and college financial aid, a student must make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP).  As with academic probation, SAP varies by college, and students that do not make Satisfactory Academic Progress are in danger of losing their financial aid.   

While academic probation is more serious than a warning, they are both serious, and should be seen as official acknowledgement that the student is  in jeopardy of being dismissed if the difficulty persists. Students usually have a certain timeframe, often one semester, to raise their academic performance. 

What to do if you get an academic warning or go on academic probation 

You may feel afraid, embarrassed, or afraid of being judged, but college is different than high school, and many people struggle with the transition.

First, check out this video, and remember that you're not alone.  

Second, it's crucial that that you think about the successes you've had so far and build on them.  You have already done so much right to get to college.  Just analyzing how you got here, and trying to apply your approach to academics may help you feel a little better and create a plan of action that you can live with. 

Next, seek help from your academic advisor, mentor, and other trusted adults. They will help you understand your college's requirements for students on academic probation, and help you make a plan. 

For example, your academic advisor can help you consider: 

  • whether to retake a class to raise your GPA. (One caution here, retaking a class at another institution – for instance, over the summer – may not help your GPA as many colleges will transfer credits, but not grades.)
  • how to create a balanced course load, with a mix of difficult and less challenging courses.  
  • whether to consider taking a lighter load for one semester, perhaps taking 12 credits instead of 15.  Although this may necessitate taking a summer class at some point, it may allow you the opportunity of concentrating on fewer classes and doing well.
  • if your college has a pass/fail policy, and whether you might want to take advantage of it.  

Your advisor, mentor  or other trusted adult can help you: 

  • set reasonable long and short term goals, and plan the steps to reach your goals.
  • identify on campus resources that can help you academically, and with the adjustment to college.  Does the college offer workshops in study skills, writing or time management?  Is there a writing center?   
  • help you carefully and honestly consider what habits may have contributed to your current situation, and what you can change.  Should you study more, study differently, study in a different place, take advantage of study groups, or manage your time more efficiently?  Do you keep a planner with all assignments and deadlines?  
  • Think about and prioritize your living situation and outside responsibilities.  Can you maintain your job?  Should you consider a different dorm or room if that is possible?

Over the long run, it's a good idea to check in with your advisor and professors several times throughout the semester.  Catching problems early can make a difference.  And although it may seem contradictory, it's a good idea to get involved and engaged in the non-academic activities of your college.  If you are on probation or warning, you certainly need to be spending time studying.  However, several studies suggest that students who are actively engaged in the life of their campus actually do better academically.  So getting involved and spending time with other motivated students can actually give you a boost.  

Academic probation is an uncomfortable situation, but it can be turned around.  If you successfully see this as the warning that it is intended to be, and analyze what has created your difficulty, you will make the changes necessary to determine a positive outcome.  

Adapted from collegeparentcentral.com