What Happens If You Fail A Class In College With Financial Aid

Getting financial aid is every college student’s dream, as the exorbitant price of higher education leaves very few families able to afford the costs out of pocket.

However, with aid comes responsibility, and students who fail a class may be afraid that their funding source will be cut off since it is not mom and dad writing the check.

But is this fear legitimate?

In general, failing one class in college is unlikely to affect your financial aid’s status, especially aid coming from government and institutional sources. However, it is important to know your specific program’s provisions to accurately assess a failed class’s impact. 

For the most part, students only become in danger of losing financial aid after their GPA drops below a certain threshold, or they have been in school for multiple semesters and have not stayed on a satisfactory track toward graduation.

Nonetheless, there are many mitigating factors, so the following pieces of advice can help you understand how to proceed if a failed class becomes part of your academic journey.

A stressed crying in the mirror because she is failing a college class. The text overlay says, "what happens if you fail a class with financial aid."

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How Failing Grades Affect Different Types of Financial Aid

It is important to know what type of financial aid you are receiving to understand how a failing grade will impact your continued eligibility to receive aid.  

Grants

Grants are one of the best kinds of financial aid to receive because they are essentially cash gifts that do not need to be paid back.

They are typically need-based awards issued by the government, but you may also be able to receive a grant directly from your university, a private grant, or a grant from a non-profit organization.

Pell Grant

The most popular grant for college students is the Pell Grant.

This is a federal grant awarded to college-bound students whose family has demonstrated a financial inability to pay all of the student’s educational costs. 

To receive the Pell Grant, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine the amount of their expected family contribution (EFC).

The government issues the Pell Grant to help offset the costs that the family cannot cover. 

As long as the FAFSA is submitted each year, a failed class should not affect the student’s ability to receive the Pell Grant. 

However, if you start to accumulate multiple failed classes and you are not making satisfactory progress toward graduation, as deemed by the institution, the Pell Grant could be cut off.

In addition, if you receive the Pell Grant as a full-time student and withdraw from school or drop below full-time enrollment, you may be required to pay back some or all of the Pell Grant. 

Scholarships

Scholarships are similar to grants in that they are free money to cover the cost of school. The difference is that scholarships are typically merit-based, not need-based.

There are many kinds of scholarships available to students, with funding coming from several different sources.

Most universities have scholarship funds that award students who have particularly high GPAs or SAT scores. There are also different private scholarships offered by federal, state, and local organizations.

Scholarship money typically does not need to be paid back once disbursed.

However, as scholarships are usually merit-based, they do tend to have higher satisfactory progress requirements than grants for the scholarship to continue.

For example, a student may be required to maintain a 3.4 GPA or higher to receive scholarship funds. 

Depending on where a student is in his or her academic career, a failed grade may put him or her below this threshold. Therefore, to continue receiving scholarship dollars, it is important to retake failed classes and ensure that most credit hours are earned with “A’s” and “B’s.”

Loans

Loans are the least desirable type of financial aid because, despite student-friendly terms, they ultimately have to be paid back.

However, they can be necessary if the student is unable to secure enough grants and scholarships to cover school costs.

Student loans can come from federal or private sources, such as your bank or credit union.

The benefit of loans is that they will typically have lower requirements to maintain funding.

While the originators of private loans want to feel confident that you will eventually be able to pay back the loan, federal programs are in place to ensure that all students who want to continue their education will get the funding, at least up to a bachelor’s degree.

Although student loans are a good investment if you have a plan for your career and know how you will pay them back, remember that they do have to be paid back when you are finished with school.

So if you continually fail a class that you use student loans to pay for, understand that these costs keep accumulating and will come due whether you graduate or not.

Financial Aid Requirements

One single failed course is unlikely to affect your financial aid for most undergraduate programs.

Most programs want to see progress toward a degree and will not cut funding until a low GPA starts to take shape. 

Nonetheless, with so many types of grants, scholarships, and loans available to students, there is no way to know how a failed class may affect your aid status without reading the fine print.

Some common scenarios include:

  • Aid up to a certain credit amount: Some forms of financial aid will only pay for a set amount of credit hours. If failing a class causes you to exceed this threshold, you may have to pay for a future class out of your own pocket.
  • Class rank provisions: Some professional schools like to bait students in with a first-year scholarship that renews only if they are in a certain GPA percentile after the first year. A failed class can be deadly in this scenario.
  • Private scholarship exceptions: Some private scholarships, such as those created in the memory of an alumnus or are part of a special interest program, can have very high standards. Before accepting such a scholarship, understand everything that it entails and make a note of whether it seems attainable for you.

What to do if you fail a class in college with financial aid

Failing a class in college while on financial aid is far from ideal. However, one failed class should not cause too much damage to your aid status.

Take the following steps to give yourself the best chance of keeping the money flowing:

Communicate with the financial aid program

The most important step to take to ensure that your financial aid remains unaffected by a failing grade is also the simplest: communicate!

The financial aid program in which you are enrolled is much more likely to be forgiving if it sees that you take your failing grade—and, subsequently, your education—seriously and are proactively working on ways to get on the right track. 

Reach out to your financial aid program as soon as possible to let them know about your failing grade.

If the writing is on the wall before the end of the semester, don’t wait to tell your financial aid office or financial aid program about your less than stellar grade.

Instead, let them know ahead of time and start brainstorming ways to keep your funding secure, providing them as much insight as possible as to why the grade has sunk so low. 

If you wait until the day before the next semester starts and call up asking where your money is, your request is likely to be met with much less leniency. 

Understand that the vast majority of financial aid programs are in place to help students get their education.

They want to work with students—not against them—to make this a reality and understand that there will be some hiccups along the way.

While simply acknowledging your academic struggles is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card, it can go a long way in proving to your funding source that their financial aid dollars are not being blown haphazardly. 

Appeal the grade

Perhaps your financial aid program has a zero-tolerance policy for failing courses and is not interested in your story about why your grade has sunk so low.

If this is the case, then it is time to do everything you can to get the grade changed to keep your funding. 

There are certain situations in which an appeal is likely to be heard.

Although many professors will put in their syllabi that important exams and/or presentations cannot be made up and must be completed by the scheduled date, students will often have institutional or legal recourse if due dates are missed due to:

  • Death of an immediate family member
  • Major illness
  • Debilitating injury
  • Institutionally-sponsored athletic or extracurricular events

If the student can prove that the failing grade is the direct result of conflicts due to one of the circumstances mentioned above, then failing grades can sometimes be switched to “exempt” or “incomplete.”

Appealing to your professor

The best place to start an appeal is with the professor.

If your extenuating circumstance is communicated properly, he or she may be willing to allow you to improve your grade without getting the university legislature involved.

This can be in the form of extra credit assignment or even a grade bump if you’re on the verge of making the next letter grade.

However, when emailing your professor at the end of the semester for a grade bump be kind and understanding if they are unable to bump your grade.

Some professors are just not willing to compromise unfortunately or have strict policies again grade bumps.

But if you have turned in all your assignments on-time, have participated in class lectures, and have attended office hours your professor may be sympathetic enough to give your grade a little boost.

Appealing to the university

If the professor remains steadfast, the next step is to submit a formal appeal to the university.

Thoroughly read through your school’s website and handbook to understand how to submit an appeal that stands a chance of winning. 

Ensure you go up the correct ladder and have a valid reason for why your grade should be changed.

Keep your course syllabus and all relevant materials readily available to help prove that your failing grade was the result of a grading error or malpractice.

Getting a grade changed is difficult—but not impossible—so it is worth attempting if your funding is at risk. 

However, it is important to note that those students who fail a class due to excess unexcused absences, academic dishonesty, or have a long track record of poor academic performance have significantly smaller odds of winning an appeal than those who can demonstrate that the low grade was due to an extenuating circumstance or a mistake on the professor’s part. 

Retake the failed class

Knowing your financial aid’s renewal date is critical because it can give you the chance to get the failing grade wiped from your record before a dispute ever arises.

For example, if your financial aid renews every fall, you may be able to retake and pass the class before your financial aid program ever assesses your transcript.

Some schools offer special summer or winter sessions to help students looking to recover credits.

This will often be a shortened session, sometimes as little as three weeks.

These can be beneficial opportunities because, despite these shortened terms’ density, students are fresh off of learning the material over a previous full-term course; this can help turn an “F” into a passing grade on your transcript.

Conclusion

Failing a college class while on financial aid is definitely stressful. However, if the proper steps are taken, one failed class will usually not affect your aid status. 

If you are looking at an “F” on your transcript, immediately open a line of communication with your financial aid program to apprise them of the situation and figure out how to proceed.

If your funding appears at risk, appeal the grade with your professor or through the appropriate university channels if applicable to you and your situation.

Finally, check your aid renewal dates to try and retake the class and replace the failed grade before your transcript is assessed.

I truly hope this guide on what to do if you’re failing a class and are on financial aid helps you plan your next course of action for a successful college experience. Good luck!

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A college girl screaming because she is failing a class. The text overlay says, "what happens if you fail a class with financial aid."