What Happens if You Fail a College Class With Financial Aid?

Failing a class doesn't guarantee you'll lose your financial aid. Learn how it can impact your financial aid package and the steps you can take to keep it.
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  • Failing a class for any reason may impact your financial aid.
  • You usually must meet satisfactory academic progress to qualify for financial aid.
  • You can take several steps to regain financial aid if you lose it.
  • Discuss your options with your professor, dean of students, or financial aid provider.

Failing a college class is stressful for any reason — but it's especially taxing when you have financial aid. Financial aid often comes with the contingency that you keep your grades up to maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP), which are standards that may differ by college.

But meeting those standards isn't always possible for students. Whether it's because of mental health challenges, difficult classes, or multiple jobs to juggle, your grades can slip. However, there are steps you can take to potentially save your financial aid — or reapply for it later.

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What Happens to Financial Aid When You Fail a Class?

Failing a class has different impacts depending on what kind of financial aid you have. Read on to learn how failing could affect your finances if you've received Pell Grants, scholarships, or either federal or private student loans.

Federal Student Aid

If you receive federal college loans, failing a class may disqualify you from them based on your school's SAP requirements. Federal student aid typically requires you to maintain a 2.0 GPA to qualify — so failing a class may put you at risk of losing it.

Pell Grants

Pell Grants also require satisfactory academic progress, and your school sets that standard. If you fail a class, then you may lose your grant or need to pay it back. If your GPA was high enough before you failed a class, then you might still be in the clear.

The reason you failed the class may have a bigger impact on you if you have a Pell Grant. For example, you may lose your Pell Grant if you have attendance issues or if you withdraw from your class past your school's add/drop date.

Scholarships

Many scholarships require you to maintain a certain GPA. Schools that award scholarships often set specific GPA parameters as well. Failing a class could put you in jeopardy of losing your scholarship if it has that requirement. Scholarship requirements vary widely by providers, so contact them directly if you fail a class.

Private Student Loans

If you fail a class, you likely won't lose your private student loans. Private student loans typically don't require you to maintain SAP like federal student aid does — and they don't have GPA requirements like many scholarships do.

However, withdrawing from your class because you're in danger of failing might affect you. Private lenders may require you to be enrolled in a certain number of credits, and withdrawing could bring you below that threshold.

How Many Classes Can You Fail With Financial Aid?

If you fail one class but have an excellent academic track record before that, then your GPA may be strong enough to stay qualified for financial aid. Recovering your GPA and requalifying for financial aid is often easier if you've just failed one class.

But if you've failed multiple classes, then financial aid isn't the only thing you need to worry about. Your college may place you on academic probation — a warning for students to improve their grades. If your grades don't improve after being placed on academic probation, you may get suspended or expelled from your college.

What Is Satisfactory Academic Progress?

Satisfactory academic progress is a set of academic standards universities set to determine eligibility for financial aid, among other things.

Federal guidelines require SAP policies to tell you the following:

  • GPA requirements you must maintain (which are usually above a 2.0).
  • How quickly you're moving toward graduation. You usually must be on track to complete your degree within 150% of your time frame. For example, if your degree takes 120 semester hours to complete, your limit to receive financial aid is 180 credit hours attempted.
  • How an incomplete class, withdrawal, repeated class, change of major, or transfer of credits from a different school will affect your SAP.
  • How often your school will evaluate your progress.
  • Whether you're allowed to appeal your school's decision that you haven't achieved SAP.
  • How to regain eligibility for federal student aid.
  • The number of attempted credits you must pass, typically around 70-75%.

If you're unsure of your school's standards, contact your financial aid office.

What to Do If You Fail a College Class With Financial Aid

Failing a class is a roadblock, but you can take steps to avoid losing financial aid eligibility or to become eligible again later on.

Reach Out to Your Professor

Talk to your professor sooner than later if you're close to failing. They may allow you to retake tests or complete extra assignments that could help your grade. If they know you consistently go to their office hours or use your school's tutoring resources, they may be more lenient with your grade. Some professors may be more flexible than others — but if you never ask, you'll never know.

Reach Out to the Dean of Students

Depending on the reason you're failing your class, reaching out to your school's dean of students may help.

If you believe your professor made a mistake with your final grade, you may make an appeal to the dean of students. If you failed because of a family or health emergency and your professor is offering no flexibility, the dean of students might help you.

This can result in you improving your grade and not failing the class. Or it can help you get the proper documentation you need to appeal your grade if your school deems you weren't meeting SAP standards.

Reach Out to Your Financial Aid Provider

Your financial aid provider should know if you've failed a class as soon as possible. Whether you're receiving scholarships, grants, or loans, a failed class could impact whether you qualify for your aid or need to repay your provider anything.

The specifics of your academic and financial situation impact your best course of action, so contact your financial aid provider for personalized options.

Take Out a Student Loan

If you lose a merit-based grant or scholarship because you failed a class, then you may be able to receive financial aid from student loans.

How far you are from your school's SAP standards may determine what kind of loans you're eligible for. If your GPA suffered a big hit after a failed class, you may need to take out a private student loan since they often don't have academic requirements.

Federal loans generally do have academic requirements, but you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) anyway to see what you qualify for.

Retake the Class

If you failed a course but still qualify for financial aid, you can retake it once to improve your GPA. After that, you can no longer receive federal financial aid for the course. Scholarships and loans from third parties may have different rules.

Reapply for Financial Aid

Since the federal government awards financial aid annually, you can apply every year. If you failed a class in the past and have since improved your GPA according to SAP standards, then you may receive aid again if you qualify.

The same applies to any miscellaneous grants or scholarships you've received in the past. Once your grades are back up, reapply.

File an SAP Appeal

A failed class can disqualify you from many financial aid packages if your school claims you are below their SAP standards. If you disagree with this, or were below SAP standards because of undue hardship like a family or health emergency, then you can file an SAP appeal. The earlier you get documentation from a doctor for a health condition, the better chance you may have of receiving a successful SAP appeal.

The process and requirements differ by college, so contact your school's financial aid office to see if you can make an appeal.

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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