For many first-time and returning college students, just filling out the FAFSA can raise a lot of questions. While that very important first step in applying for financial aid will likely become more familiar and less stressful each year, continuing students may find themselves with additional questions about maintaining eligibility for loans and other funding:
"Are there any financial aid GPA requirements I need to know about?"
"How many classes can I or should I take?"
"What if I withdraw from classes?"
These are all valid questions that may arise over the course of a school year.
Maintaining Satisfactory Academic Progress
In order to remain eligible for financial aid each semester, students must maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) as defined by their college or university. While this usually includes GPA requirements (which may differ between the universities), students must also show that they're completing courses and progressing through a degree program on a timeline considered acceptable by the school.1
Below are some common questions about financial aid eligibility requirements and some information on how failing to meet these requirements may affect your financial aid.
What GPA Do You Need to Keep Your Financial Aid Eligibility?
In most cases the minimum GPA for financial aid eligibility is determined by your school, so you'll need to check with their financial aid office to know what requirements you need to meet. You should also be aware of whether your specific degree program has any different criteria, which often overrides the university policy. (For example, it's common for GPA requirements to be set at 2.0 on a 4.0 scale—or the equivalent of a C average—but especially demanding departments may set their own requirements much higher.)1,2
It's also important to identify what type(s) of financial aid you are currently getting. Merit-based financial aid like grants and scholarships may have their own set of eligibility criteria, which could include different GPA requirements than those necessary to demonstrate satisfactory academic progress for your school.1,2
Does It Matter How Many Classes You Take?
Schools may set annual or term-based credit requirements to ensure students are making regular progress toward graduation. Typically, you must complete your degree program within 150% of the normal published length of the program (e.g., the number of terms it would take to complete assuming a student took a full-time courseload and passed all required classes).1,2
What Happens If You Fail to Complete a Class?
Failure to complete a course may affect financial aid depending on a number of factors. Receiving a failing grade will lower your rate of completion (and your GPA), but as long as you pass enough of your other classes to avoid falling below the school's rate of completion requirement (typically 66.7%), you federal aid eligibility may not be affected.2
It may be possible to withdraw from a course to avoid receiving a failing grade, though you'll need to look into how many withdrawals your university allows. Similarly, your institution may have a limit on the number of times you're allowed to retake a failed course. Courses passed with a D or higher can be retaken only once before becoming ineligible for financial aid.3
Other Eligibility Requirements
All the basic eligibility criteria must be met before you can receive any federal aid for which you may qualify. You should also know when and how often your school reevaluates eligibility, as well as what to do in case you fail to meet continuing eligibility requirements in the future. (For example, is there an appeal process, and when can you regain eligibility?)
Ready to learn more? Explore the financial aid process and resources at AIU.
1. Federal Student Aid, "Staying Eligible," on the Internet at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/eligibility/staying-eligible (visited February 24, 2016).
2. Federal Student Aid Handbook, "School Determined Requirements," on the Internet at http://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1516Vol1Ch1.pdf (visited February 24, 2016).
3. U.S. Department of Education, "Negotiated Rulemaking for Higher Education: Program Integrity Questions and Answers – Retaking Coursework," on the Internet at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/course.html (visited February 24, 2016).