What Is Academic Probation and How Can You Avoid It?

Academic probation can happen if your grades drop, putting your college future at risk. Learn about academic probation and how to avoid it.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on May 11, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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What Is Academic Probation and How Can You Avoid It?
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Academic probation sounds serious — and it is. Colleges put students on academic probation if their grades are too low.

It might seem rare. But, in reality, it's not particularly uncommon. A survey of over 54,000 first-year college students found that 1 in 6 learners faced academic probation.

How can you avoid academic probation? And what should you do if your school puts you on probation?

Around 8% of bachelor's degree-holders were on academic probation at some point, so it's possible to graduate after academic probation. And, fortunately, colleges offer many resources to help students at risk of academic probation.

What Is Academic Probation?

College students who earn low grades can find themselves on academic probation. But what is academic probation exactly?

Colleges set a minimum GPA for good academic standing. At most schools, this means earning above a 2.0 GPA. When a student's cumulative GPA drops below 2.0, the institution can put them on academic probation.

Academic probation means students risk losing financial aid and even being dropped from college. Low grades are a warning sign that students need to make changes quickly to continue their education.

Students on academic probation typically work with academic advisors to improve their grades and reclaim good academic standing. At many schools, undergrads can retake a failed class to raise their GPA.

Advisors can also connect students with resources to address their unique academic barriers.

What Restrictions Do You Face on Academic Probation?

Academic probation usually comes with certain restrictions and requirements. First, students with a low GPA often meet with an academic advisor to discuss their circumstances and create a plan to get off academic probation.

Each school sets its own academic probation policies. At the University of Washington, for example, students who earn low grades in their first quarter receive an academic warning rather than being put directly on academic probation. If they raise their grades the next quarter, they can return to good academic standing.

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities puts a hold on the student record of anyone who earns below a 2.0 GPA for the term or cumulatively. Students on academic probation cannot register for classes and must instead meet with an advisor to draw up an academic contract.

This contract details the steps the student must take to register for classes and remove the probation from their record.

Academic probation also puts your financial aid at risk. You can still receive funding on academic probation, but you need to make satisfactory academic progress to qualify for Pell Grants, scholarships, and federal aid programs. That means getting off academic probation as soon as possible.

At most colleges, students who fail to raise their GPAs on academic probation face dismissal from the school.

How to Avoid or Get Off Academic Probation: 5 Tips

Every student wants to avoid academic probation. But what if you find yourself at risk of probation — or even on probation? The following tips can help you improve your grades and maintain good academic standing.

1. Identify Your Academic Barriers

The first step is knowing why your grades slipped. Was it your first term at a new school and you had a hard time adjusting? Did you miss too many classes? Deal with medical or mental health concerns?

Identify the issues that held you back in order to create a plan to move forward. That might mean cutting your hours at work so you have more time to study and do homework. Or, it may mean reaching out to campus counseling services for support.

2. Reach Out for Help Early

Too many students wait until the end of the term to address low grades. Set yourself up for success by reaching out for help early. If you're struggling in class, contact your professor or go to office hours. Ask an academic advisor about tutoring services and the writing center.

If you're struggling outside of class, consider support services at your school. Most institutions offer resources for mental health conditions, childcare support for student parents, and other services that can help you focus on your studies.

3. Consider Changing Majors

Low grades are a warning sign you need to make changes. Look for patterns in your transcript. Are you failing some classes and doing fine in others? That's an indication you might need to change majors.

If you struggled academically in your STEM or pre-med classes, for example, consider taking classes in other departments. Focus on meeting general education requirements, and then reassess your major after raising your GPA.

4. Take a Lighter Course Load

It's common for college students to struggle when they take on a high course load. If you're at risk of academic probation, consider a lighter course load. Focusing on three classes instead of four could easily boost your grades.

If you're on academic probation, make sure to ask an academic advisor about the minimum number of credits you need to take. At most schools, you must raise your cumulative GPA above a 2.0 to get off probation, and taking 1-2 classes might not be enough to raise your GPA.

5. Meet With Your Academic Advisor

It's always a good idea to meet with an academic advisor when you're struggling. Whether you are worried about your grades or are already on academic probation, set up an appointment with your advisor to discuss your options.

Academic advisors can help you identify what's causing your low grades and recommend potential solutions. Every student has different circumstances, and an advisor can help you create a personalized plan to improve academically.

Frequently Asked Questions About Academic Probation

true Can you change your major while on academic probation?

Generally, you can change majors while on academic probation. In fact, your academic advisor may recommend switching majors to improve your grades. However, some departments set a minimum GPA to officially declare the major.

Consider discussing your options with an academic advisor and taking classes in your new major. You may need to return to good academic standing before officially changing majors.

true How long does academic probation last?

Academic probation typically lasts 1-2 terms at most. Depending on the school, students may get a warning about low grades before being placed on academic probation. Once on academic probation, students generally must raise their GPA above a 2.0 to return to good academic standing.

At some schools, you might remain on academic probation for longer if you show good progress. For example, if your cumulative GPA remains below a 2.0 but you received over a 2.0 GPA for the term, you may remain on academic probation while continuing to raise your grades.

At many colleges, however, students in their second term of academic probation risk dismissal.

false How many times can you be on academic probation?

At most schools, students can be on academic probation more than once.

Consider a student who earned low grades their first term and ended up on academic probation their second term. They raised their grades for a year but then had another term with low grades. In that case, the student would go on academic probation for a second time.

Policies on academic probation vary by school. Research the policy at your school or meet with an academic advisor to learn more.

false What happens if you fail on academic probation?

Colleges want students on academic probation to return to good academic standing. Earning a failing grade in a single class can lower your GPA. If you do well in your other classes, it's still possible to raise your GPA and get off academic probation.

If you don't raise your GPA, your school may drop you. That leaves you with the option of appealing or applying for reinstatement. Take action quickly to avoid academic probation and to raise your GPA if you find yourself on probation.

Plagiarism is unethical, and cheating can have major consequences for your academic future. Learn about the types of plagiarism and how to check for them. When should you drop a class and when should you stick with it? Learn about the consequences of dropping a class and your alternatives. Curious about the benefits and drawbacks of the pass/fail grading system? Use these tips to decide when you should take a course pass/fail.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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