The reasons for a low college grade point average are almost as varied as students themselves. Laziness, missing classes and inability to complete challenging work can certainly play a role, but major life changes and stress can also interfere with good grades. Some students experience a dip in GPA due to illness, the death of a close friend or family member, disability or financial problems. A low GPA doesn't necessarily ruin your future, and you can pull bad grades up with hard work. However, a very low GPA can have serious consequences both for your academic life and after graduation.
Graduate School Admissions
Graduate and professional school admissions can be highly competitive, particularly at highly ranked schools. Students who have low GPAs are less likely to gain admission to these schools unless they can compensate for a low GPA with stellar test scores, excellent professor recommendations or impressive research. A low GPA, however, doesn't preclude grad school altogether, and "U.S. News and World Report" points out that some schools are willing to take students with low grades. The tradeoff is that these schools are often second- and third-tier institutions, and a degree from them may not carry the same prestige as one from a first-rate institution.
College scholarships are often tied to grades, and students who fail to maintain a good GPA can lose scholarship money. Some states offer free or discounted tuition to students who maintain reasonably high GPAs. In Georgia, for example, students who maintain a 3.0 GPA can have their college funded by the HOPE scholarship. Although some schools allow students a grace period of a semester to bring up their grades, a low GPA can trigger financial issues and leave students scrambling for money to cover tuition.
Fewer Professor Recommendations
When students don't excel in their classes, professors might not be willing to provide them with recommendations. These recommendations not only play a role in graduate school admissions, they're also sometimes required for study-abroad programs, internships and research projects. Professors sometimes help students network to gain access to jobs, academic conferences and similar pursuits, but they are often less willing to help students who have low grades.
A low GPA can play a role in the decision to drop out, according to an ACT policy report on student retention. While GPA is not the only factor in a student's risk of dropping out, low grades can begin a snowball effect. Students may lose funding and the ability to pay for college. Failed courses can delay graduation, and low grades in prerequisite classes may mean the student has to repeat the class. This can be quite discouraging and may cause some students to give up.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.