What Happens to Federal Financial Aid if You Fail a Class?

Check your school’s academic performance policy to know what happens to your federal financial aid — from the FAFSA — if you fail a class.
Trea Branch
By Trea Branch 
Edited by Karen Gaudette Brewer

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Failing one class does not mean you'll automatically lose access to federal financial aid. But these funds do have academic eligibility requirements, as outlined in your school's satisfactory academic progress (SAP) guidelines. So if you fail to meet the SAP requirements set by your school's financial aid office, you could be cut off from future aid.

Federal aid — any aid you received by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — could include need-based grants, work-study and federal student loans. These could be taken away if you violate your school's SAP policy.

Each institution defines its own SAP policy, so requirements could vary. But many schools follow these guidelines.

Students must:

  • Maintain a minimum cumulative GPA between 1.6 and 2.0.

  • Complete at least 67% of all attempted credit hours.

  • Finish a degree in no more than 150% of the program's average number of required credit hours. (If the degree typically requires 120 credits, you can only get financial aid for 180 credits — including classes that you failed or dropped.)

Contact your school's financial aid office for information on your specific SAP requirements.

What happens if you fall below your school's SAP requirement?

Before cutting your access to federal financial aid, a school may issue a warning and put you on probation. You may still have access to federal funds during this time, but your grades, for example, are expected to improve. If you do not achieve SAP standards by the conclusion of your probation, you will be unable to receive federal funds until you do. How long you're ineligible for aid depends on how often the school evaluates student performance.

Some schools only offer SAP probation if you fail to meet academic guidelines due to extenuating circumstances, such as a death in the family or serious illness or injury. By submitting a satisfactory academic progress appeal, you can explain why you could not meet SAP standards and why you believe you will be able to meet those standards in the future. If your appeal is approved, you may be able to maintain financial aid eligibility while the college monitors your progress.

How to regain eligibility for financial aid

To regain access to federal aid, you'll need to show your institution that you can make satisfactory academic progress as outlined by the financial aid office. You might need to:

File a satisfactory academic progress appeal. Depending on the school's process, filing an approved SAP appeal could help you regain access to aid faster by placing you on probation, where your performance is evaluated more frequently.

Retake courses at your current school. To improve your GPA or pass more classes, you may need to retake what you previously failed. This can be hard to do without federal financial aid. You may need to consider private student loans to close the temporary gap in funding — but only if you have a solid plan to improve your grades and meet SAP standards.

Transfer to a less expensive college. Improving your grades without financial aid is no small feat. Consider transferring to a less expensive university or community college while you raise your GPA and accumulate enough credits to meet SAP requirements. You can also enroll part-time so that you can work while taking classes.

Submit the FAFSA every year. Your completed FAFSA is valid for one academic year. Complete the FAFSA each year to qualify for federal aid, especially if you're in better academic standing and are now meeting SAP requirements.

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