Universities at the masters level utilize several measures in determining eligibility for financial aid. Financial aid can consist of student loans, stipends, scholarships, etc. There are three general categories for determining eligibility: Cumulative GPA, Pace, and Maximum Time. Your financial aid can be terminated if you fail to meet any of these requirements! Therefore, it is recommended that you monitor each of these categories for yourself so that you don’t get any nasty surprises.
When enrolled in a masters program you are expected to maintain a minimum GPA, generally 3.0, at all times. This means you really can’t get grades of “C”; or if you do they must be compensated for by “A”s. This applies not only to financial aid eligibility, but is also a general academic requirement. In another words, too many “C”s and you’re out. This isn’t like undergrad.
For example, the University of South Florida (where I am a doctoral student) requires you to maintain a 3.0 average at all times. USF also does not include grades from previous institutions. Check your university’s catalogue for their specific requirements.
You must continually make sufficient progress toward your degree.
For example, at USF minimum pace is considered to be completion of 67% of the credit hours that you attempted. USF includes ALL coursework in this calculation, even if it is from a different university or program. Check your university’s catalogue for their specific requirements.
There is a limit on the maximum number of credit hours you can attempt, and/or the total time it takes to attempt them. This means that if you aren’t successfully completing courses fast enough, your aid can be taken away. Universities calculate this as either as a maximum number of credit hours, or maximum amount of time. In either situation, universities will take the expected number and add some wiggle room to it.
For example, USF calculates Maximum Time as 150% of the required credit hours for your program.
I had a “nasty surprise” at the beginning of this semester when I got a very unfriendly letter telling me I was no longer eligible for my teaching stipend because I wasn’t making “satisfactory academic progress.” I went into full-on panic mode because suddenly I was going to have to come up with $3K tuition! Don’t let this happen to you. In my case, they wrongly counted my masters hours as part of my doctoral hours in their maximum time calculation. They were able to straighten it out, but if I had been checking it I could have avoided the last-minute panic. And when you’re in a graduate program, you want to avoid any kind of stress that you can!
Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,
P.S. Due to the Budget Control Act, passed in August 2011, interest payments on student loans are no longer deferred until after graduation beginning July 1 2012. So, if you get a student loan, plan on paying interest on it as soon as it is dispersed.