Academic Probation: Your Guide to Staying in Good Standing

Academic probation is when a student has failed to maintain the minimum GPA to remain in good standing in the school. It is meant to serve as a warning that grades need to be improved within a certain time frame. If the student is unable to rectify the problem, they may not be able to enroll in any further semesters. 

Below is your guide to academic probation, how it can impact you, why you may be placed in academic probation, and the steps you can take to remain in good standing with your college or university.

What is Academic Probation?

Every college and university has minimum requirements for students to remain in good standing with the school. Generally, this refers to a minimum GPA and credit load requirements (such as a minimum of 12 credits to be considered a full-time student). If a student fails to meet these standards, they will lose their “good standing” and be placed on academic probation.

Academic probation is a sort of warning, telling students they have a set period of time to improve their grades in order to remain at the school. It shouldn’t be seen as a punishment as you are not immediately being asked to leave the college. Instead, the school is telling the individual they have a set period of time to turn their academic performance around. 

Why Are Students Placed on Academic Probation?

The general answer is that students have a lower than required GPA, but this can happen for a few reasons:

  1. The student is skipping classes. We’re all guilty of it, but skipping too many classes – especially in a course where the professor takes attendance – can have a big impact on your grade. Some professors do dock points if you miss over a certain number of classes.
  2. The class schedule is too intensive. If you’re taking classes that each have a lab or heavy writing requirements, you could find yourself with little to no free time to study or complete all of your work.
  3. The course load is too heavy. In addition to intensive schedules, course loads can be too heavy. For many students, the sweet spot is 15 credits per semester. If you’re taking 18 or more, you could be having a hard time keeping up.
  4. The student is often choosing pass/fail. Pass/Fail is an option for students who are struggling in a class, but don’t want to completely withdraw from the course. Too many failures can impact a GPA and help to cause academic probation. 
  5. Unexpected emergencies, stress, and more. Life happens, and sometimes those outside stressors can impact our work and ability to learn. 
  6. The student is struggling with college-level work. College is different from high school, and some students need longer to adjust to the higher expectations.
  7. Not taking the recommended credit amount. (And/or withdrawing from too many classes). Most schools require at least 12 credits to be considered a full-time student. If you’re taking less than 12 or withdrawing from your classes, you could be put on academic probation.
  8. Not enough time is being spent on studies and classes. The sudden independence many students experience during college can throw some off track. Too many parties and not enough studying, for instance, can absolutely contribute to lower-than-expected grades.

How Academic Probation Impacts You In the Long Term?

While being placed on academic probation isn’t immediate notice that you’re being asked to leave the school, it needs to be taken seriously. Failing to rectify the issue can result in some very serious consequences. You could:

1. Lose Out on Financial Aid

Some financial aid grants, such as the Pell Grant, require the student to remain in good standing with the college in order to renew the grant. Scholarships may also require the student to keep their GPA up in order to keep receiving money. In some instances, students falling into academic probation could mean the award needs to be paid back, especially if the student fails to improve their grades.

2. Loss of Spot In Intended Major

There are a few majors that require higher than average grades, and many of these programs have separate application requirements when you enter college. Engineering is often an example of this – spots are limited and it’s competitive. Entering academic probation could mean you lose out on your spot.

3. Dismissal From The College

If the student fails to turn grades around in the coming semester or two to meet satisfactory academic progress policies, the student could be dismissed from the college. While the individual can absolutely attend another school if they’re accepted, it can be discouraging to have to leave your first choice of school.

What Do Satisfactory Academic Progress Policies Require?

Every school is different when it comes to satisfactory academic progress policies. Generally, in order to get out of academic probation, students need to meet three requirements:

  • Improve and maintain a minimum GPA
  • Take the required amount of classes or more
  • Meet with their academic advisor regularly

In order to turn your warning around and improve your standing with the college, students should look into the individual school’s:

  • Minimum GPA requirements.
    • Schools have different definitions of satisfactory academic progress. Many will only require the individual to have a 2.0 or higher in order to remain in good standing. However, this is not always the case. Harvard University, for example, requires a 2.7.
  • Term vs overall GPA policies.
    • Satisfactory academic progress policies will also have requirements for term and overall GPA. Term refers to a specific semester or term, and a student will be required to have over a specific GPA for that term. However, students may also have to have over a minimum overall GPA (their grades over their entire education at the school). This means a student could meet the requirements for a term GPA, but not an overall GPA if their grades impact their overall GPA enough. Students in this boat will have to go beyond minimum term requirements in order to raise their GPA with the school.
  • Time frames.
    • Academic probations only last a specific amount of time, and these can vary. Some schools only offer a single semester to turn grades around, but others can offer two.
  • Schedule requirements.
    • Schools can also have minimum course requirements for their full-time students. This is generally at least 12 credits, but it can vary from college to college.
  • Other requirements.
    • Colleges may ask students to complete additional tasks in order to get off academic probation including regular meetings with an academic advisor, a success plan, attending academic probation courses, and more.

How to Get Out of Academic Probation?

For many, getting out of academic probation can be easier said than done. We’ve put together some tips to help you put the warning behind you:

1. Improve Your Academic Performance

This one’s obvious, but how exactly can you improve your academic performance? Students should:

  • Create success plans that help them target their weaker areas in education
  • Set time aside for studying, homework, and assignments as well as free time
  • Work with tutors and/or join study groups
  • Meet with professors outside of the classroom for assistance
  • Participate more in classrooms
  • Always attend classes unless sick
  • Assess any incomplete course requirements that can be rectified
  • Retake classes

2. Evaluate Your Course Selection

College students have to take a set number of classes for general education and major requirements in order to graduate with a degree. Lack of planning here though can result in students taking too many intensive classes or too many credits in one semester. Schools generally recommend about 15 credits per semester. This will allow you to graduate in 4 years. Taking more than 15 a semester will help you graduate faster, but could result in lower-than-ideal grades if you simply don’t have enough time to tackle the work. By planning ahead and working with an academic advisor, students can rest assured that they have a schedule that is challenging but not overwhelming.

Students should also evaluate the times they’re scheduling their classes. If you’re not a morning person, for example, scheduling courses later in the day may be more beneficial for you. Morning classes likely won’t be entirely avoidable, but scheduling what works best for you will help you make more classes and improve your grades!

3. Meet With Your Academic Counselor

This may be a requirement to get out of academic probation at your school, but even if it’s not, it’s a good idea to schedule regular time to meet with your academic advisor. They will help you evaluate your grades, progress, class schedule, and timeline for graduation. They’re equipped with the resources to help you, too. 

4. Make an Appointment At Your College’s Health Center

For students who are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, or unexpected life events, getting through it alone can be tough. Even with a strong support network, being away from home can be detrimental to an individual’s academic performance. Scheduling an appointment to meet with a therapist at your school’s health center, though, can help you get the additional support you need.

These experts have worked with countless students going through exactly what you’re going through right now. They can help you take advantage of mental health and school resources to reverse your academic probation. In some cases, they can even recommend the removal of the probation or allow you to take a semester off without losing your spot at the school for a break. 

Academic probation can be a knock on your confidence, but it should be seen as a wake-up call for students. The school is letting you know that you’re in danger of more serious consequences and this is your chance to turn it around. While it can definitely be a downer, students should take advantage of all the resources at their fingertips in order to turn their grades around.


Getting into the right school for your goals is essential, but students also need to give thought to the workload. A college education should be challenging, but not overwhelming. This means finding the right school for your goals and your capabilities. So how can you do that? We suggest using our FREE College Match tool to help you identify the best schools out there for you!