Guide to Academic Probation

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What is Academic Probation? 

Academic probation is a red flag that you fall below your school’s metrics for good academic standing. Colleges tend to measure ‘good’ academic progress by GPA and number of earned credits. If you do not meet these criteria, the college may put you on academic probation. You might be able to transfer while on academic probation. As a general rule, a cumulative GPA of less than 2.0 places you on this academic time out. But if your term GPA is lower (say 1.5 -1.99), it may trigger it too.

During your academic probation period, you have the opportunity to improve and get back on track. If not, you might face consequences such as dismissal and loss of financial aid. While on academic probation, you are likely to have to: 

  • Pass a certain number of credits 
  • Earn an acceptable grade point average (GPA) which each college sets 
  • Meet with your academic advisors 

Can I Transfer While on Academic Probation? 

You might still be able to transfer while on academic probation. “Might’ because each college assesses incoming students against their own standards. When you apply for academic probation transfer, some applications ask if you are in good academic standing. If you answer “no” you may be able to explain why you are on it.  

You could then describe your situation and struggles. Putting these things in perspective may help the new college get to know you apart from the “C” grade. In colleges with open admissions policies, this may be enough. They may accept you, regardless of a low GPA. Selective colleges, on the other hand, may not.  

How Do Students End Up on Academic Probation? 

A range of internal and external factors could lead to academic probation and academic probation transfer. Internal factors are things like anxiety over test taking. And external factors are ones you can’t control. These are a ten more common causes of academic probation. 

1. Entering college with a lack of skills

Researchers from UC Berkeley found that students who took many AP colleges in high school were 3 – 5% more likely to be in good academic standing than those who did not. 

2. Not showing up to class

Skipping too many classes may affect your GPA and standing. Some schools do hold you accountable and may have automatic fail or grade drop policies if you are absent too many times. 

3. Too many classes

Students may sign up for too many classes, not knowing how to juggle the workload. The first year is also a time of transition, new sleeping, eating and study habits. And all these may cause grades to slip.

4. It’s tough to time manage

You may sign up for what you think is a balanced number of credits. But if all the classes entail tons of reading and writing, or long lab sessions, it may overload you. Sometimes an academic advisor can help you create a schedule that is more do able in real time.

5. Too many pass / fail grades

If you opt for a pass / fail instead of a letter grade too many times, it might affect your standing.

6. Poor study habits

Many students try to study in ways that do not fit their personality. According to UC Berkeley, 82% of students on first year probation say poor study habits were obstacles to their success. 

7. Mental health and illness

Another 82% of students on probation say they felt stressed, depressed or upset. Illness, family emergencies and other personal health issues could also cause a chain of events that cause performance to fall. 

8. Completing too few credits

Sometimes dropping too many classes can cause your GPA to dip as well. To this point, it helps to know in advance how may credits you must complete each term. 

9. Too much partying

Late nights, hangovers and too much socializing can take a toll – on the body and on grades. Add noisy roommate drama and it may hinder your grades too.

10. Lack of interest

Some classes may motivate you and others may bore you to tears. It may be harder to put effort in when your interest isn’t high, but this could risk your GPA especially if it is a core class or part of your major.

How to Get Off Academic Probation 

Often, an academic probation warning spells out your next steps. These steps may differ between schools and students but are likely to refer to GPA policies. Schools may have two GPA policies for students on academic probation. These are: 

Overall GPA policy

A common GPA to meet is 2.0 on a 4.0 scale. This means that your cumulative GPA from all terms at that one college must be at least 2.0 by the end of each semester or quarter. Bringing your grades up to this level may take you off academic probation.

Term GPA policy

Term GPA s the cumulative grade received at the end of a given academic term. You may have to make progress towards this goal while also meeting the overall GPA asks. If you do, it may show the school enough effort on your part that they extend your probation period. Another thing to keep track of is a probation timeline. This varies too and some online colleges (Walden is one) won’t let you progress if you don’t pass the first course in your curriculum. 

Tips to Improve Academic Performance 

Once on academic probation, there are a few things that may help improve your grades.

  • Get some advice. Meet with advisors and faculty and ask for guidance.
  • Stop skipping class. Go to class. 
  • Speak up. Take part in a discussion, ask a question. 
  • Get a study buddy. Or join a study group to keep you accountable. 
  • Look for a tutor. Many colleges have tutoring centers to help you grasp key concepts.  
  • Block off time. Set time aside in a more official way to help you balance study with free time fun. 
  • Retake a course. If you can raise your GPA by retaking a course, this may be an option. 
  • Complete a course. Incomplete grades may equal failing grades so make sure you work with your professor to finish what you started.

How to Stay Off Academic Probation

Once you are off academic probation, celebrate your success and keep it going.

  • Use a planner. There are apps or paper planners where you can keep track of due dates, exams etc.
  • Tap into help networks. Colleges may have health centers, tutors, advisors and resources that you can turn to for help. 
  • Touch base with teachers. Many teachers keep office hours, or you may reach them by email to answer questions and concerns.  
  • Book routine advising sessions. Keep a handle on your schedule, issues, goals and workflow through regular advising sessions.  

How Can Academic Probation Affect Financial Aid? 

Many forms of aid including scholarships require students to be in good academic standing. Since academic probation is a warning that grades are falling, it does risk loss of financial aid. The Pell Grant is one example. It is money you typically do not repay to the federal gov’t.  

Unless you fail to meet conditions. Like you withdraw early from the program for which you got the grant. Or, you change your enrollment status. Also, you cannot renew a Pell Grant id you do not make “satisfactory academic progress.” Given, each school may define progress differently. 

To stay eligible or become re eligible for financial aid after academic probation you are likely to have to: 

  • Meet and keep up the acceptable GPA stated by your college (such as 2.0)
  • Move towards graduation by taking a specified number of credits per year or term 
  • Avoid incomplete (“I”) grades and withdrawals 

FAQs on Academic Probation 

What should I do now? 

Make sure you understand the conditions outlined in your academic standing letter and focus on improving in the next quarter.

What GPA will get me into academic probation, and what GPA do I need to get out? 

A GPA of 1.5 to 1.99 when the minimum is 2.0 may get you onto academic probation. So, depending on where yours fall, you may need to bring it to 2.0. Some schools (UC Santa Cruz is one) have a GPA Calculator tool on the student portal to determine the exact grades you need to earn. 

Does a W affect academic probation?

W for withdrawal from a class means you get no grade or credits, so it may not affect your GPA. But there may be policies about how many withdrawals a student is allowed. 

How long does it take to get out of academic probation?

our college’s Registrar’s Office may set a time limit (E.g. one semester, two semesters).  

What happens if my GPA doesn’t improve when I’m on academic probation? 

In some schools, you face suspension and or dismissal if you do not improve your GPA. It may also disqualify you from your major.  

Can I take summer classes to improve my academic standing? 

In general, yes and it may be a perfect plan. Just check with your advisor and college policies first.

What is a second academic probation?

It tends to mean your GPA falls below 2.0 for two semesters in a row. 

Is it possible to graduate while on Academic Probation? 

It is very unlikely you can graduate while on academic probation. One school that says “no” is the American Military University (AMU). 

© Education Connection 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Sources for school statistics is the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

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