Making satisfactory academic progress (SAP) is crucial for students receiving federal financial aid. SAP is a measure of the progress you’re making toward your degree, typically establishing a minimum grade point average and the number of credit hours each year. And, not only does it determine your eligibility for federal financial aid, but it can also impact your personal and academic success.

Satisfactory academic progress varies by institution, so each school’s requirements are unique. Generally speaking, SAP is an institution’s standard for making progress toward your desired degree or certificate. The better your grades with the minimum number of classes you need to take, the more likely you will receive financial aid.

Unfortunately, falling short of SAP standards is a common struggle for many students. But if you are facing challenges that have affected your academic performance, there may be hope. To help you better navigate SAP and avoid losing federal financial aid, here’s what to know about SAP, why it is important to maintain satisfactory progress and tips on how to appeal your SAP status.

Key takeaways

  • Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) is a metric used to evaluate academic performance and is determined by each individual school.
  • Not meeting SAP requirements can result in consequences such as losing federal financial aid and potentially needing to explore other funding options.
  • Students can appeal their SAP status if they have experienced extenuating circumstances that impacted their academic performance.
  • Dropping a class can affect SAP and may result in returning some of the financial aid received for the semester.

What are the three components of satisfactory academic progress?

SAP uses the following metrics to evaluate academic performance:

  • Grades: Your grades are one of the most influential parts of financial aid. The better your grades are, the better your chance of getting financial aid for the next school year. While the grades necessary differ by school, you generally have to maintain a C average or better for satisfactory academic progress.
  • Credit hours: Credit hours are how many credits you take in a given semester or school year. You’ll need to enroll in and complete a minimum number of credit hours to secure financial aid for the upcoming year.
  • Degree completion timeline: Most two- and four-year institutions have tracks for completing your degree within a specific time frame, whether you’re part-time or full-time. If you don’t complete your degree in that time, you may have more difficulty getting financial aid.

Because each school determines its own satisfactory academic progress, you’ll need to check with your school’s website or financial aid office to see if you’re on track.

Why does satisfactory academic progress matter?

Satisfactory academic progress evaluates students’ academic performance and is crucial for maintaining financial aid eligibility. If you don’t make satisfactory academic progress, you could:

  • Receive a financial aid warning: These usually last about one term, and you typically keep getting aid during the warning period. As long as you meet the requirements within the given time frame, you shouldn’t have any issues, and the warning will be lifted. If you don’t meet the requirements, you could lose your financial aid.
  • Financial aid suspension: Failing to keep up with satisfactory academic progress could result in losing your financial aid for the upcoming term or year. This also hurts your chances of future enrollment if you can’t afford to pay for school on your own.

Many private student loan companies also have satisfactory academic progress requirements. If you fall below your school’s SAP threshold, you may not qualify for private loans.

Can you appeal your satisfactory academic progress status?

If you don’t meet your school’s satisfactory academic progress, you could lose federal financial aid funding. However, some schools allow you to appeal this decision and will tell you so when you receive the letter detailing your loss of financial aid. You can appeal if you’ve experienced:

  • Severe personal injury or illness
  • Death of a relative
  • Other special circumstances determined by your institution

You’ll need to show that there was a direct link between your circumstances and your poor academic performance. For instance, along with the immense grief of losing a parent, you may also need to handle arrangements for a funeral, burial and the completion of any last wishes. This means that you might be unable to attend classes, attend labs or complete coursework during this time.

Your appeal needs to detail what changed or impacted your SAP. You’ll need to give as much detail as possible in a written statement. Your school will give you a timeline for when you should complete the appeal; otherwise, you won’t have another chance to regain your financial aid eligibility.

If your appeal was successful, you could regain your financial aid but possibly enroll in a probationary period. You can still get aid during this time, but you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements set by your school or risk losing aid in the future.

What should be in the appeal letter?

The appeal letter should include:

  • Description of the mitigating circumstances and supporting documentation. This can include federal and state records, private medical records, a death certificate of a family member and supporting statements signed by the appropriate parties.
  • Steps taken/to be taken to ensure future academic success. If required by your school or if you could not maintain progress for more than one signer, you may need an academic plan signed by an academic advisor.
  • Anticipated graduation date. This helps the school easily see how much time you have left before completing your degree.

Invalid reasons for an appeal include change of major, double major, taking courses for a minor, personal conflict not explained and documented and/or the need for financial assistance.

The bottom line

You need to meet the minimum satisfactory academic progress requirements set by your school or you could risk losing financial aid. Without it, you’ll miss out on any federal funding, including scholarships, grants and federal student loans. Additionally, some private student loan lenders set satisfactory academic progress requirements.

If you’re struggling with your schoolwork, reach out to your professors, academic advisor or campus tutoring center as soon as possible.

Frequently asked questions

  • The SAP appeal and reinstatement deadlines are different depending on your school. If you miss the SAP appeal deadline, you’ll have to re-establish eligibility without the assistance of financial aid.There’s no fee associated with submitting an appeal and no exceptions to the SAP appeal deadline.
  • Dropping a class could hurt your satisfactory academic progress. If you aren’t taking and completing the minimum number of credit hours each year required by your institution, you might not qualify for future financial aid.If you already received financial aid for the current semester, dropping a class could mean returning some of the aid you’ve gotten.