After the Award: Why Grades Matter for Financial Aid
You know that awesome feeling you experienced when you realized your grants and scholarships will cover a hefty chunk of your college cost? The relief that now you could focus more on college life instead of solely on your grades?
Not so fast. You should know your grades will likely still matter if you want to keep your aid each year. Here’s why.
1. You may need a minimum GPA to renew certain scholarships and grants.
Many renewable or multiyear scholarships and grants require you to maintain a minimum GPA in college to renew the award. The exact GPA required each semester or term will depend on several factors, such as:
- The minimum GPA set by the entity that provided the award. Make sure you understand the requirements for each renewable award. Also, check whether there is a probationary period if you fall below the minimum and whether that must occur in your first year or you may use it any time.
- Whether you need to maintain a certain cumulative GPA or a minimum each term. If you need to keep a minimum cumulative GPA, one semester of poor grades can affect your eligibility for several additional terms.
- The grading system for your classes. Some colleges award whole grade points only, so an 89% and an 81% course grade are both Bs and are both worth 3.0 points (often called “quality points”) on a 4.0 grading scale. Others award partial points for a letter grade with a + or a -, so an 89% course grade may be a B+ worth 3.33 while an 81% may be a B- worth 2.67 on a 4.0 scale. Still other colleges allow professors to choose which system to use as long as they provide the grading system in the course materials. Know where you need to fall on the scale and whether it’s worth the effort to bring a low B up to a high B in one class versus concentrating on bringing a high B up to a low A in another.
2. You definitely need a minimum GPA to continue to qualify for state and federal aid for additional years.
If you want to receive financial aid, including work-study, grants, scholarships and loans, from the state and federal governments, you need to fill out a FAFSA each year. In addition, you need to show Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). Each school has its own guidelines and process for SAP, but they may include:
- A minimum GPA.
- A required number of credit hours each year, semester or term.
- A warning or probationary period after falling below the minimum GPA.
- An appeal process for extenuating circumstances affecting your GPA.
The U.S. Department of Education provides more information on how grades affect federal financial aid. Visit your financial aid office or your college’s website for information on its SAP policies.
3. You may need to repay scholarships or grants.
In some cases, you may be expected to repay at least part of the award if you:
- Do not attend classes or withdraw from school after a certain date.
- Drop below full-time.
- Do not pass enough credit hours in a given time period.
If you are experiencing difficulty in college, even if circumstances are beyond your control, make sure you understand any penalties regarding your financial aid. Your college’s financial aid and academic advising offices can help you determine your options.