What Academic Probation Is and How to Avoid It

With bad grades come consequences, and in college that may mean academic probation.

Academic probation “on most campuses means that a student has not met a minimum threshold to be in good academic standing, and that typically is a minimum grade point average,” says Kristi Wold-McCormick, assistant vice provost and registrar at the University of Colorado–Boulder.

Intended as a red flag to let students know they need to get back on track, academic probation is the result of failing grades. Experts say that typically means below a 2.0 GPA, though that number can vary by college and even by the specific program of study. A challenging major may require a higher standard than the one set by the institution, experts note.

[Read: How to Get Good Grades in College.]

Those working in higher education encourage students not to think of academic probation as a punishment, but rather as an opportunity to discover campus resources that can help them be successful.

“The common, and incorrect, assumptions about students on probation are that they aren’t adequately prepared for college or are too focused on the social side of college,” Beth Tidball, director of academic advising at Marian University in Indiana, wrote in an email. But she says it may have more to do with students being unfamiliar with how to use campus supports.

“They simply aren’t used to working with peer tutors, attending office hours or supplemental instruction, or taking papers to a writing center. They were highly successful students in high school without those resources and don’t understand how key they can be to college success,” she says.

At Marian, Tidball says academic success coaches meet with students weekly to identify the issues that led to probation and create a tailored plan to get them back on track.

Factors That Lead to Academic Probation

The reason students end up on academic probation varies, experts say. It’s often a mixture of academic and nonacademic reasons, Allison Hoffman, assistant vice president of admissions and student success at Northwest Missouri State University, wrote in an email.

Experts cite students not going to class as a primary reason, while other factors include time management issues, mental health struggles, family matters or financial issues that place an additional strain on students and cause them to prioritize work over school.

“We recognize that students are adjusting to college workloads and expectations,” Tidball says. “They are often faced with new freedoms, requirements, and demands on their time that occasionally result in a lower than expected GPA in the first semester or year.”

Experts recommend that students meet with advisers and faculty members and seek out support services such as tutoring. They also should consider if their major is the right fit.

Strategies offered by experts to avoid probation are simple: go to class, follow the course syllabus and talk to the instructor. They also stress the need for students to seek help as soon as they begin to struggle.

“Catching things early on is really important,” Wold-McCormick says.

What Are the Consequences of Academic Probation?

Generally, higher education professionals say, students will meet with an adviser or other university support staff when placed on academic probation. In many cases, students will have met with support staff even earlier, because most colleges monitor warning signs — like class attendance and grades — in order to catch and correct academic issues.

Students continue to take classes dung the probationary period, but failing to show progress can result in an academic suspension, where students are not allowed to take classes for a certain period but are eligible to return once that time has passed. Suspension lengths vary by school, experts say, noting it may be one semester or several.

Upon return, suspended students may face academic dismissal if they are unable to turn around their grades.

[READ: Campus Support Every First-Year College Student Should Use.]

Probation may come with some restrictions. Wold-McCormick says it may bar students from participating in organizations or activities or competing for scholarships that require a certain GPA. Students may also face the loss of scholarships already in hand, athletic eligibility or federal and state financial aid, Tidball says.

Academic probation may also trigger university oversight of the registration process, with students required to work with academic advisers or tutors to develop their schedule, sometimes including a cap on the number of credit hours a student can take in a single semester, notes Sherri Stepp, associate dean of undergraduate studies and director of University College at Marshall University in West Virginia.

“We also don’t allow (students) on academic probation to register online,” Stepp says. “Therefore, we have holds on their registration to prevent them from changing their schedule. Once we’ve established the schedule for the semester, they would have to go through their adviser to make any schedule adjustments prior to the beginning of the term or when the term begins.”

Experts also note that it may be difficult to transfer while on academic probation. Wold-McCormick says a probation typically doesn’t appear on a student’s transcript, though a college may be able to deduce a student’s status because of the low GPA.

How Can I Get Off Academic Probation?

To get off probation and continue being enrolled at that school, students must show academic progress, which typically means improving their GPA to at least a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale. That’s easier to do when students have earned a small number of credit hours and a single class carries more weight on their cumulative GPA.

While schools allow students to remain enrolled as they try to improve their academic record, that period is often limited, sometimes to just one semester.

[READ: Don’t Make These 8 Mistakes as a College Freshman.]

“Typically schools don’t let students remain in that mode for perpetuity, because they’re just digging a bigger academic hole that’s going to be harder to get out of,” Wold-McCormick says. “It’s not responsible for institutions to do that.”

Like at Marian, students on probation at Northwest Missouri State are put on an academic recovery track where they work weekly with a team comprised of their academic advisers, “success coach,” a graduate assistant and a peer mentor.

“This has shown to be incredibly effective in helping students to move from academic probation back to academic good standing and ultimately persist toward graduation at our institution,” Hoffman says.

Tidball says the first step for academically imperiled students is “to take a hard look at what led to the probationary status. Once the student has identified the problem, they can start charting a course toward good standing.”

She also encourages students to use campus resources like counseling centers, disability services or campus ministry groups. Outside of the academic realm, she says getting involved in social groups can help, so long as it doesn’t impede studies.

“It’s also important to build community,” Tidball says. “Students will perform better if they are connected to the institution and other students, so getting involved in a student organization on campus might be a good step.”

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More from U.S. News

How to Get Accepted Into College With a Low GPA

Dropping Out of College: Why Students Do So and How to Avoid It

How to Get Into Grad School Despite a Low College GPA

What Academic Probation Is and How to Avoid It originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/22/22: The story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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