College Life: What Is Academic Probation?

College students must maintain a certain grade point average or else face the reality of 'academic probation', a final warning to improve.

College may appear to be a breath of fresh air for incoming freshmen, but there are still rules and regulations concerning any student's academic progress. Grade point averages in High School may have denoted class rank or satisfactory progress towards a diploma, but in college low grades can mean loss of a scholarship, denied entrance into a program or repetition of core curriculum classes. Colleges and universities put such a premium on GPAs that a policy specifically addresses the penalties of poor grades. This policy, which may vary from school to school, defines a condition called 'academic probation.' Academic probation means a student's overall grade point average has fallen below an acceptable level, generally 1.5 for entry-level students and 2.0 for more experienced students. Academic probation is a very serious step, because it means the school's administrators have officially acknowledged a student's lack of progress. Students on academic probation can no longer count on flying 'under the radar'.

Broadly speaking, college students have an obligation to make satisfactory progress towards a degree or certification. College life may include other social or personal benefits, but the main focus of any learning institution is academic. The best way to measure any student's academic progress is through examination of grades, because they are more likely to be objective than any other standard. Most schools have established a dividing line at 2.0- a GPA achievable through solid C grades in every class taken. Individual scholarship awards may require higher GPAs, but in academic terms any student should be able to provide C-level work in the majority of their courses. Anything below 2.0 indicates a significant difficulty with the course material or the testing methods or attendance policies.

Academic probation, as the name implies, is a probationary condition. This means that a student is still eligible for enrollment in classes, but must take direct steps towards improvement. Students placed on academic probation may be required to attend special workshops on study habits or receive intensive counseling from an advisor. Some schools may offer an opportunity to retake classes and only record the higher grade for GPA purposes. Students on academic probation generally have a specific timeframe in which to demonstrate satisfactory progress. If their grade point averages remain below 2.0 after this time has elapsed, the school may decide to place students on a more serious condition called 'academic suspension'. Suspended students may not be allowed to enroll in classes for at least one term, and their financial aid may also be affected. Students who believe they have made sufficient progress while under probation may have to face a specially-convened board before their good academic standing is restored.

Academic probation is not always a penalty- it can also be seen as a wake-up call. Maintaining a 2.0 GPA may seem routine to many students, but there are always extenuating circumstances which may temporarily affect someone's ability to perform well in school. Some students may be working to support themselves or suffer from undiagnosed but legitimate learning disabilities. Falling grades may be the first outward signs of a more serious situation, and academic probation status may attract the proper attention from counselors and advisors. While under academic probation, a student may be able to address personal reasons for his or her failing grades. These extenuating circumstances may be presented to the academic review board for reinstatement purposes. Not taking any corrective steps while under academic probation is a sure way to escalate to academic suspension status, so students should avail themselves of any and all programs offered for rehabilitation.

Because college students are considered legal adults, parents are not necessarily notified whenever their child is put on academic probation status. The school or adult student is not under obligation to release this information, so a parent needs to have an open and honest relationship with a struggling college student. If the adjustment to a different environment or homesickness has left a student feeling severely depressed, this will be reflected in his or her grades. This may be a situation in which a student must take personal responsibility for his or her behavior, so parents may have to resist the temptation to 'fix' the situation themselves. College students may feel better with a safety net beneath them, but their academic standing should be a matter of personal discipline, driven by an independent desire to achieve long-term goals. Transferring a student to different colleges with different standards may be a cure or it may be a crutch. Geography may offer a change of scenery, but won't necessarily turn an unmotivated student into a human dynamo. Besides, academic probation policies are virtually the same across the world and still apply to transfer students. Changing majors may also be an option following academic probation, but a student must find the drive to succeed from within, not from a seemingly more exciting program.

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