What Is Academic Probation?

Tired studentIf you’ve learned your child’s school placed them on academic probation, you may have a lot of questions.

First, you may ask, “What is academic probation?” Academic probation is a period during which a student must satisfy certain scholastic requirements. Satisfying these requirements will improve their academic standing. During the academic probation period, the student may not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. They may also have to seek additional scholastic help from a counselor or a tutor.

Beyond the questions you need to be answered, you may be worried. Will my child drop out? Does her school not like her? NeuroHealth’s academic probation guide aims to answer common questions and worries that arise during this difficult period in a student’s educational journey. Learn more below.

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Important Considerations

Most schools, colleges, and universities want your child to succeed. They have resources—or at the very least recommendations—for help. Schools benefit from high enrollment; they don’t want to get rid of anybody. Encourage your child to talk to her academic advisor.

And while it is understandable that you are concerned about your student’s academic performance, at NeuroHealth we encourage you to consider that social, psychological, and emotional factors affect performance at school or college. “Study more” may not be the most effective advice for your child.

Finally, note that each school has its own policies about academic warnings and probation. Consult the academic catalog for specific details.

What Causes Academic Probation?

As defined by the academic catalog, your student can be placed on academic probation if his academic performance for at least one term falls below a certain benchmark, usually a 2.0 GPA. The “one term” part is important, since you can be placed on probation even if your overall GPA is above the threshold. For example, you may have earned a 1.7 semester GPA or you may have dropped too many courses.

More broadly, many social and emotional factors can contribute to a student performing poorly. Below, we describe ways you can help your child.

What Does an Academic Warning Mean?

When comparing these two disciplinary actions, an academic warning is generally less severe. In most cases, an academic warning comes before academic probation.

Think of an academic warning as a notice that you are in danger of being put on probation if your GPA slides any lower. Generally, a warning is triggered by a semester GPA at or slightly below passing, e.g., 2.0. A warning will not appear on your transcript, whereas academic probation will appear on your unofficial transcript.

How Do I Appeal Academic Probation?

Your student is responsible for appealing a change in academic status—not you! That said, you can, of course, guide your child through this process. Your first stop should be at your academic advisor’s office. Your child’s advisor can provide the appeals form and talk you through the process. Expect to write a letter of explanation that explains any circumstances that contributed to a bad course or term and an “academic success plan” outlining how you will get back on track.

NeuroHealth has a long history of working with students. We offer consultation services when mental health factors impact academic performance.

How Long Does Academic Probation Last?

Most schools expect to see the student make progress to improve their performance in a single semester. If your cumulative GPA remains above the benchmark, you may be permitted to remain on academic probation.

If, however, your semester and cumulative GPAs fall below the school’s benchmarks, you may be subject to disqualification status. This means you have one more term to hit a benchmark before the school can rule as to whether you may remain enrolled there.

Can I Be on Academic Probation Twice?

This could happen if, say, you were on probation, worked your way back to good standing, and then had another rough term. If you are already on probation and fail to achieve the benchmarks after one term, you will probably be given a status such as “academic suspension” or “subject to disqualification.” In the former case, you may have to sit out one term. In the latter case, you may have one more term to turn things around.

Thus, depending on your school’s protocols, you may have three or more terms in a row in which you are not in good standing: academic warning, academic probation, and subject to disqualification.

Can I Get Financial Aid on Academic Probation?

Financial aid may be at risk when you are placed on academic probation. Technically, it is your GPA rather than your status that matters here. Most forms of financial aid require a minimum GPA, usually 2.0. This includes federal student loans and many academic and athletic scholarships. You may also have trouble getting a new private student loan. Be sure to check with your school’s financial aid department or your private lender.

How Do I Explain Academic Probation on Applications?

Ask your school if academic probation appears on the official transcript. If it does not, you don’t need to bring it up with graduate schools or future employers.

If it is noted in some way, it is prudent to prepare to be asked about it. Your best bet is to focus on the bigger story. Sure, you had one bad term, but then you pulled yourself together, made a plan, and got yourself back on track for graduation.

Graduate programs and employers understand that people make mistakes or that life events happen; they will be impressed if you can tell a success story about bouncing back.

Can I Take Steps to Prevent Academic Probation?

Student browsing selection of foreign language books in college library

The best thing you can do is to cultivate a positive, supportive relationship with your child. College is a great time to let them learn more independence, but they should know you have their back and want them to come to you when things get difficult.

Ask your child to tell you about decisions they’re making about course load, extracurricular activities, study habits, work, and socializing. If they express concern about a course, encourage them to speak with their professor or advisor. Point them to tutoring resources available on campus. Counseling services, both on and off-campus, are another option; they can advocate for your child and perhaps work with the administration to obtain academic accommodations if necessary.

Note that participating in extracurricular or non-academic activities can contribute to college success by helping your child feel more engaged with the life of the campus or community.

How Should Parents Deal with Academic Probation?

The first and possibly hardest thing to do when you hear your child is on academic probation is to consider what she is feeling. She may be as afraid and upset as you are—or worse. Nobody likes to fail, after all.

Next, focus on letting your student know you’re on his side and want to help him succeed. Let him know it’s not the end of the world—you can make a plan and correct course.

Avoid any temptation to speak directly with the college or university yourself. This can undermine your student’s sense that she has control of her own life, which she needs now more than ever. Only take direct action if you have discussed it with your student, first.

Try to explore the different areas of your student’s life at school and look for stressors, bad habits, or health conditions that may have impacted his performance. Sometimes students struggle taking breaks. After all, it’s hard to cope with the demands of college, a job, social engagements, and smartphone usage.

Consider, too, the expectations you have for your child or that she has for herself. Everyone is different. You know from past academic performance what you can realistically expect; help her to recognize what is acceptable and good performance.

Keep open the possibility of taking a break or even dropping out. This is a tough one, but it may be better for your student in the long run compared with continuing down a stressful path of poor performance and failure. You can always reapply later and tell the story of how you overcame a tough situation.

Let NeuroHealth Help Your Student Succeed in School

Your child may need more help than the school can provide. In this case, we recommend contacting a mental health provider for ongoing support.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights is staffed with psychologists who know which colleges and universities treat students with care and attention. Our founder, Dr. Laurie Philipps, specializes in direct school consultation and advocacy for students.

In addition, she has held faculty (and clinical appointments) at The University of Chicago Medical Center, Rush Medical Center/Rush Medical College, and many other institutions. She has served as the Dean of Students at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. In other words, she knows firsthand how schools can work harmoniously with psychologists and families so that students can thrive and, ultimately, graduate.

If your student attends a university outside the Chicago area, do not worry: We are happy to hold remote appointments at convenient times.

Let your student get the help he or she deserves. Contact us today so your family can take a step in the right direction.