February 25, 2013

What Happens if I Drop or Fail a Class?


You’re a student veteran, you’re collecting GI Bill educational benefits from the VA, and everything is finally working smoothly.  Then you find yourself in a particularly difficult class and start worrying about your grade.  If you’re like most other veterans, you’ll probably also start worrying about a new problem: what will happen to your VA benefits if you fail a class?  What if you drop it instead?

First of all, don’t worry, and don’t give up.  Be proactive, take a deep breath, and focus on your class, first.  Talk to your instructor and your academic advisor, and try to identify your stumbling block.  If you need tutoring, counseling, a stress-break (exercise is a great way to clear your brain!), or academic accommodations to get you through, visit the appropriate offices on your campus for some additional support.  You’ve pushed through difficult stuff before, and you can get through this, with the right tools.

Next, you’ll need to discuss your options with your academic advisor and your school certifying official, and perhaps your financial aid counselor.  You may have several options available to you, depending on your situation, and each option may - or may not - have significant academic or penalties attached, which you will have to consider carefully before deciding what to do.
There are two factors that will weigh heavily on your decision, so let’s look at these first: 
  • What is your current academic standing?  If you’ve been doing fairly well so far and you're in good academic standing, then one or two bad grades aren’t going to be the end of your college career.  You might even be able to replace a bad grade with a better one later on, and salvage your GPA.  On the other hand, if you haven’t been doing well for the past few terms and you are already on academic probation, one more bad grade might get you kicked out, and you wouldn’t want to risk that.  If you’re on academic probation, you need to have a long talk with your academic advisor about your options.  Make an appointment today. 
  • If you drop a class, will you still be a full-time student?  If you are taking a particularly full load, dropping the class might give you more time to focus on your remaining classes, securing better grades overall.  If you drop a class, you may have to pay back Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, but that may be better than risking a bad grade.  If you aren’t using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and will still be full-time, you might not have to repay anything.  On the other hand, if dropping the class will put you below full-time status, you may have to pay back a LOT of VA money.  Talk this over with your School Certifying Official before you decide to drop. 
Below are some common scenarios, with typical outcomes.  Remember that your situation may be different, so be sure to discuss it with the appropriate people on your campus.

Option 1: Stay in the Class
This is usually the best option for most students, unless you’re already on academic probation and can’t risk another failing grade.   With a little tutoring and some extra study time, you may end up passing the class after all!  If you don’t pass, you can probably repeat it, and it is usually easier the second time around. 

Effect on VA benefits: usually nothing.  If you stay in the class all the way to the end, you don’t have to pay money back, whether you pass or fail.  The main thing is that you tried.  Your school may require some additional documentation for your VA records to prove that you stayed in your class to the end, so be sure to check with your School Certifying Official after your grade is posted.  There’s a catch, though: if you barely passed the class and find the next class even harder, you can’t use VA benefits to repeat the class you passed, unless your college requires you to repeat it.  Also, if you end up repeating the class more than twice, you may have to pay back benefits for the first or second (or more) unsuccessful attempts. 

Effect on GPA: potentially significant.  Your current-term GPA is determined by calculating a numeric value for your letter grade, multiplied by the number of units (credits) for your class to get your grade points for the class.  Add up the total grade points for all your classes in the term and divide by the total units you attempted in that term to get the Grade Point Average (GPA) for the term.  Your cumulative GPA is calculated the same way, but with your total points divided by your total units.  An “F” grade is assigned a value of zero, which is an instant GPA killer, especially if you haven’t taken many classes yet.  It can take a long time and a lot of hard work to drag that GPA back up again.  On the other hand, if your college has a “grade forgiveness policy” that will let you repeat the class and remove the former grade from your GPA calculations, you might be able to repair the damage fairly easily.  Just be sure to discuss this with your academic advisor.  

Option 2: Drop the class 
If you are concerned about the damage that a bad grade can do to your GPA, or if your class is consuming so much of your time that you can’t focus on your other classes and are at risk of failing them all, then dropping a class may be your best option, if there’s still time to drop.  There’s almost always a deadline, so you’ll need to check your academic calendar.  Some colleges have different deadlines for dropping without a grade on the transcript, dropping with a “W” grade (or something similar), or dropping with a Withdraw-Failing grade.  You’ll need to ask your academic advisor or your registrar’s office about the differences if you aren’t sure. 

Effect on VA benefits: potentially significant.  If your drop will take you down to part-time status, you will have to pay back some of your monthly housing allowance, either back to the day you stopped attending class, or all the way back to the beginning of the term, depending on your circumstances.  If you will still be a full-time student after the drop and are using any other benefit besides the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the drop will probably not affect your benefits at all.  On the other hand, if you are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you will have to pay back a portion of the tuition and fees that the VA paid on your behalf for the class that you drop.  Depending on your situation, this could potentially add up to thousands of dollars, especially if the monthly housing allowance is reduced.  Be sure to discuss this with your School Certifying Official.  If you decide to take the drop and get charged for the overpayment, you can always make repayment arrangements with the VA, and set up a payment plan. 

Effect on GPA: usually nothing.  Most colleges do not have an academic penalty for dropping a class, but you should check with your college to make sure.  

Option 3: Stop going to class 
This is probably the worst thing you could do.  The VA considers “not attending” the same as if you had formally dropped, so you’ll still have to pay back some of your benefits.  In addition, if you don’t go to class, you’ll probably end up failing, so your GPA will suffer as well. 

Effect on VA benefits: potentially significant
Effect on GPA: potentially significant 

Option 4: Incomplete grade
If you are struggling in class because of an extenuating circumstance – such as an undiagnosed learning disability, military orders that caused you to miss several classes, an extended illness or hospitalization, a family emergency, etc. – you may be able to request an “incomplete” grade from your instructor, which will grant you some extra time to finish the course, and take the pressure off.  If your professor agrees, you will need to work out the details with him/her about what exactly you will need to do to complete the class, and how long you will have to do so.  If you complete the course requirements on time, your incomplete grade will change to the grade you’ve earned.  If you fail to complete the course before the deadline, you may be automatically assigned a failing grade, a withdraw grade, or the grade you had in the class at the time your instructor extended the deadline, depending on your college’s policies.

Effect on VA benefits: usually nothing.  If you complete the course and earn a grade, your benefits will remain unaffected.  If you don’t complete the course and earn a letter grade (or a “punitive” withdraw grade), your benefits are still unaffected.  If you don’t complete the course and your incomplete converts to a “non-punitive” withdraw, then you will have to pay back benefits as though you had fomally dropped the course.  The catch: depending on how your college converts incomplete grades, your School Certifying Official may have to report the incomplete grade to the VA as a “drop” initially, and then re-certify it when you complete the course.  So you may end up temporarily owing money to the VA while you are finishing the class. 

Effect on GPA: it depends on your final grade, but you will have more time to complete the work, and hopefully you’ll earn a better grade than if you tried to tough it out.  If you have the option to take an incomplete grade, this may be the best option.  Just make sure that you dedicate the necessary time to complete the course requirements and get it turned in.  Some people procrastinate and miss the deadline, so don’t let that happen to you. 

One more thing to consider: if you are receiving scholarships or financial aid, you may be subject to additional restrictions on course load and GPA.  Be sure to talk to your financial aid counselor if you are in this situation.

The bottom line is that every student’s situation is different, and you need to weigh and discuss your options with the experts on your campus.  It’s far better to know all your alternatives and make an informed decision, than to simply “let things happen.”  You may find that there are additional resources on your campus that can help you if you choose to stick with it.  Good luck!

18 comments:

  1. "If you drop a class, you may have to pay back Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, but that may be better than risking a bad grade."
    Yeah, Ok. That's solid advice from someone who's obviously financially stable.

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    1. You took that very personally.. the author simply gives the options, their alternatives, as well as a few possible repercussions. Grow up.

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    2. oh really? that doesnt sound like much of an option. that sounds like a makeshift solution to a problem. we didnt serve to be penalized for a mistake. "mistake". but your obviously a valedictorian eh?

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    3. If you realize your class is hard..then get out as soon as possible..most if not all schools have deadlines to when you drop they give you all or part of the money back..hold on to the money just in case the VA does have you pay back the money..that way you don't have a high amount to pay back..its being really overthought..

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  2. Or you could switch colleges, they don't transfer failed classes. Then the veteran wouldn't have to pay back anything or take the hit gpa wise. Paying back VA benefits can be financially devastating, especially to veterans who are finding it hard to transition into the civilian workforce. I'm speaking from personal experience, are you a veteran?

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  3. Basically, you've set up a false dichotomy, when in fact a third option exists.

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  4. Thank you so much for this article! I was on the edge of just stop going to class. I know I will fail a course, but I will keep going until the end to avoid having to pay the VA back.

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  5. AnonymousJune 05, 2013

    I'm taking 14 credits and one of my classes i'm failing, and It's defenitly something that scares me, because I have/am exhausting ever option for extra credit, but my professor wont budge. I'm just concerned about being completely cut off.

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  6. I ran into some PTSD complications in my third semester and stopped going to class. I am on academic probation at that particular school. How do I go to another school and generate my benefits back up? I have a doctors letter excusing my absence. Any takers?

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  7. Unfortunately, PTSD and even basic transition-related challenges usually start to show up in the second or third semester of school, so you're definitely not alone in your experience.

    The good news is you may still be able to recover your grades and benefits and stay in school, if that is what you'd like to do. You'll need to talk to your academic advisor to create a plan to improve your academic standing and get you off of probation. As long as you're still able to take classes, you can probably still get benefits. Talk to your school certifying official to find out the details.

    If you can't or would prefer not to continue at your current school, then you will need to find another school to attend, and complete the admissions/application process there. Selective schools may not even consider an applicant with a bad transcript, but you should discuss your situation with an admissions counselor to find out what your options are. You may be able to write a letter of explanation to accompany your application packet.

    There are all kinds of schools out there, so you might need to find one that is a better fit for you. For example, some schools might have a huge veteran population and plenty of peer support, but less administrative support from staff who are overwhelmed with students. Or a school might have only a few veterans on campus, but each one gets individualized attention from a caring staff. Some veterans find that online classes are the perfect answer to environmental PTSD triggers, like a stressful commute or a crowded lecture hall, while others find that online classes are harder and make their symptoms worse. You'll need to figure out what your strengths, triggers, and challenges are, and what kind of resources might help you. Try to describe what the "perfect" school would be like for you, and then go and find a school that fits that description. They're out there.

    Whether you stay at your current school or find a new one, you will need to seek treatment for your PTSD and try to work out some of the complications before you try to re-enroll, or your situation will not improve. Your local VA vet center will have tools to help you cope with your symptoms and can refer you to appropriate facilities for treatment.

    Once you're on campus again, you should visit the department on campus that coordinates services for students with disabilities. Since PTSD is a qualified disability, you could qualify for academic accommodations that will help level the field and eliminate some of the complications you have experienced.

    As far as your VA benefits go, if you've been academically dismissed, you may be asked to demonstrate to the VA that you've resolved whatever challenges you had before they will approve you for benefits again. The VA will contact you if they need information or documentation from you. Be sure to follow through on anything that is required.

    If you are only on probation and are able to stay at your current school, you will be able to continue your benefits as before. If you switch to a new school but were not dismissed, you'll just need to switch your benefits to the new school once you've been accepted there. Your school certifying official can help you with the necessary paperwork.

    Good luck on your journey, and don't give up!

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    1. amazing advice. thank you for that reply, as it is exactly what I needed to clarify the multitude of responses from various departments and two different colleges. comforting.

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    2. AnonymousMay 14, 2014

      Thanks. Great considerations for my daughter. I will pass it on to her.

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  8. I guess a veterans GPA doesn't really matter...

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  9. What if you decided to switch career paths? Does attending at that point really matter because if your going for something different it wont help you.

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  10. So if my failing grade puts my GPA below 2.0 I'm ok as long as I push threw?

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  11. The VA is not as concerned about GPA as they are about "Satisfactory Academic Progress." In other words, they want to make sure you are on track to graduate, so that you end up with a degree to show for all your hard work, not to mention those taxpayer dollars that they have to account for. Whether you graduate at the top of the class or the bottom of the class isn't as important to the VA as the fact that you graduated. Of course, your GPA may make a difference to YOU, which is why I wrote this article, to help you weigh your academic vs. financial options.

    If your grade puts your GPA below a 2.0, you're probably fine for now, but it really depends on how your school defines "Satisfactory Academic Progress." Generally speaking, as long as it's just a one-time thing and you're able to pull your grades back up and stay on track, you'll be fine.

    At most colleges and universities, a 2.0 grade will put you on academic probation, which will allow you to continue at that school but places you on "alert" status that you are at risk of failing. You may be required to meet with your academic advisor, the tutoring center, or some other office on campus as a term of your probation. You may also have restrictions placed on you regarding which classes you may take, and how many credits total you may enroll in. The terms of probation are designed to help students realistically recover their grades and get off of probation, so you should view it as an opportunity to get some extra help. When you are placed on academic probation, your schools is obligated to report your probationary status to the VA, which will then contact you about additional resources available through the VA to help you in school.

    If you continue on academic probation for a couple of terms without improving your grades, you will probably be academically dismissed from the institution, which will be reported to the VA and you'll have a nasty mark on your transcript. Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to repay a portion of the funds you received while you were on probation or during the term leading up to your dismissal, so you shouldn't treat this lightly. You will also need to complete some additional steps before you will be allowed to collect benefits again at a different school.

    Even if your school allows you to stay on, you won't be able to collect any more VA benefits after two terms on academic probation, without meeting with your school certifying official and creating an educational plan to get back on track. And, once that plan has been filed with the VA, you must stick to the plan or you won't be allowed to collect any additional funds, and you may have to repay funds already received.

    So, to make a long answer short, you need to discuss your situation with both your academic advisor and your school certifying official, so that you know exactly what academic and financial consequences are at risk.

    If you are thinking about switching career paths, you still should complete the term in progress with the best grades you can muster, because those grades will follow you for the rest of your life. You never know when you might want to go back to school, or when an employer may want to review your transcript. Besides, if you stop going, the VA will want their money back. So you may as well put some effort into it and finish out the term on a high note.

    Good luck, and keep charging!

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  12. What happens if I was taking 9 credits and I end up getting a NB (NO BASIS) grade instead of an incomplete or an F in one class? Will I have to pay back benefits and how long do I have to pay back those benefits? Will it affect the up and coming Spring semester payments?

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  13. The VA does not care if you graduate. They care about making sure money is used for school. They also put a ton of stipulations on your money, making it next to impossible for a lot of former vets to fully exhaust their benefits. Often times you find out about these cases and it takes 3 months or longer for your paperwork to move through the VA. I would rather my children get student loans and scholarships than follow in my footsteps. The relatively small reward for enduring the stress of multiple combat tours and military life in general is not worth it. Most times, it is not even enough money to cover the tuition for a 4 year degree. "Congrats on your 7 years of service and multiple combat tours! You've earned a free trip to the community college of your choice!" Gee... Thanks.

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