Mistakes That Can Cost You Your Financial Aid

karensarver3-9996696Mistakes That Can Cost You Your Financial Aid

by Karen M. Sarver

Like a lot of university students, Terry (not her real name), an Arizona State University (ASU) English major and the mother of two young children, depended on financial aid to cover the costs of her education, her textbooks and some of her living expenses.

“I had grants and loans that I lived off of,” she said. “I had to budget down to the dollar.”

Terry was awarded nearly $10,000 in aid for the Fall semester. But with tuition and fees totaling almost $3,600, there wasnt much left over. The next year brought her more difficulties. She went through a divorce, declared bankruptcy and lost her home.

“The last two semesters were chaos for me so I did very poorly academically,” she said. As a consequence for her poor grades, Terry was placed on academic probation for continued aid eligibility. According to Terry, “If I dropped or didn’t pass any of my classes I wouldn’t be eligible for federal financial aid again.”

What happened to Terry isn’t unusual. The federal government requires universities to evaluate student progress at the end of every semester. Students who aren’t making satisfactory academic progress (SAP) are placed on probation, and are at risk of losing their financial aid.

Satisfactory Academic Progress is based on three standards:  GPA (Grade Point Average), Pass Rate, and Maximum Credit Hours. You must meet all three standards to be eligible to continue receiving federal funding (scholarships are excluded.) These standards are discussed below.


To remain in academic good standing, your GPA has to increase along with your total credit hours. At Arizona State, students with 24 or fewer credits are required to maintain a GPA of not less than 1.600.  Students with 25 to 55 credits need at least a 1.750, and a GPA of 2.000 is compulsory for students with 56 or more credits. However, as some colleges set their own GPA standard, check with your academic advisor to find your college policy.

The consequences: If your GPA falls below the minimum standard, you’ll be placed on academic probation. Grades need to be raised during the subsequent semester(s), or you won’t be allowed to pursue your major. The worst case scenario is that you could lose your financial aid and be disqualified from attending the university as well.

The solution:  Meet with your advisor to sign a restricted enrollment agreement form, a contract specifying the requirements you are obligated to meet to regain academic good standing.  Get help from a tutor to raise your GPA. You can also enroll in summer and winter courses, or consider taking more difficult subjects at a community college. Credits earned at a community college count toward your degree, but not your GPA. If you have to, repeat classes in which you earned a D grade or an E.

Tip: Another option is to start fresh by changing your major. More than half of all college students do- some as many as two or three times, says Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of MyMajors.com. Maybe you’re an accountant instead of an artist, or vice versa. Web sites like Grupe’s feature online tests that can help you find your fit.

The pass rate standard requires all students to pass 67 percent of their attempted credits.   Attempted credits include all courses except ungraded, audited, and no-credit courses.

The consequences: According to ASU’s Satisfactory Academic Progress policy, if you don’t pass at least 67 percent of your attempted credits, you’ll be placed on academic probation. If after three consecutive semesters, you still haven’t met the standard, you’ll be ineligible for financial aid for the current and subsequent semesters, and all aid that has been awarded will be placed on hold. If the measurement occurs after a semester has begun, aid for that semester will be canceled.

The solution:  Pay for a semester’s worth of classes out of your own pocket and pass all of them. Also, submit an SAP Review form signed by your advisor along with a letter of appeal and documentation explaining your circumstances to the financial aid office.

Tip: Your chances of getting your aid reinstated are proportionate to your letter of appeal. Make it short and to the point, including an academic action plan (i.e. the courses you need to take and when, with a projected graduation date).

Maximum Credit Hours

Undergraduates are typically allowed to earn a maximum of 180 credits without graduating. Credits include up to 64 transferred hours plus all attempted credits-even those that were withdrawn (audited courses don’t count).

The consequences: After you have accumulated 150 credits, you may be sent a warning that your financial aid could be terminated. At 180 credits, it will be.
Terry accumulated 184 credits before her aid was terminated. She didn’t know that transferred and withdrawn courses were tallied. She had also changed her major five times, and completely withdrew from all of her classes one semester, after she was assured that doing so would not negatively impact her financial aid. No one warned her about the maximum credit hour standard.

The solution: Submit an SAP Review form, signed by your advisor, to the financial aid office stating how many credits you still need to graduate.  Attach a letter of appeal and documentation.

Tip: When you really want to take courses that don’t count toward your major, audit them.

If you’ve already violated one of the standards and are on probation, don’t lose heart. Terry didn’t.

‘I’m using this probationary period as reinforcement to do well,” she said. “I’m not giving up on myself.”

Neither should you. Karen Michelle Sarver, 49, graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Theatre. She is working on a post-baccalaureate certificate in dramatic arts education at Rio Salado College.

Federal regulations require students eligible for financial aid to be enrolled in a degree-seeking program, take classes necessary for that program, and maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) toward their degree.

Aid programs impacted by SAP standards include the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), Federal Perkins Loan, and Federal Stafford Loans.

The regulations require the school financial aid office to regularly assess student academic progress. Generally, you must maintain a standard cumulative GPA, and complete enough courses to successfully complete your degree in an acceptable time frame to your college/university. Each school has their own SAP Policy. Contact your financial aid office or visit their Web site to learn their policy.

Among things the policy will include:

  • The necessary grade point average (GPA) for eligibility
  • The number of credits that need to be completed each year (or the pace at which a student must progress to complete the program within the maximum time frame)
  • How SAP is affected by course withdrawals, incompletes, course repetition, change of majors, or transfer of credit from other schools
  • How often student academic progress will be evaluated
  • The consequences of failure to make SAP when evaluated
  • If the decision can be appealed (extenuating circumstances may include unforeseen illness or injury, death of a friend or relative, or divorce)
  • Steps necessary to reinstate eligibility

When submitting an appeal, you will need to explain and provide documentation for the special circumstances that impacted your progress. The appeal must show how your situation has changed and how you are now able to meet SAP standards. If you think you need help in a subject, then take advantage of tutoring services and study workshops to help get yourself back on track. If under stress or overwhelmed, consider counseling. Your academic advisor can provide advice on ways to raise your G.P.A.