What is satisfactory academic progress?

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To keep receiving federal financial aid, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, every year and show satisfactory academic progress (SAP). SAP is a measure of the progress you’re making toward your degree, typically establishing a minimum grade point average and number of credit hours each year. Here’s what it means for your financial aid and why it matters.

How satisfactory academic progress works

Satisfactory academic progress varies by institution, so each school’s exact requirements are unique. Generally speaking, SAP is an institution’s standard for making progress toward your desired degree or certificate.

SAP tracks your grade point average and the number of credits you get as you make your way through college. The better your grades with the minimum number of classes you need to take, the more likely you are to receive financial aid.

What are the three components of satisfactory academic progress?

SAP consists of:

  • Grades: Your grades are one of the most influential parts of financial aid. The better your grades, the better chance you have of getting financial aid for the next school year. While the exact grades 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 in place for you to complete your degree within a specific time frame, whether you’re part time or full time.

Since 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.

Does dropping a class affect your satisfactory academic progress?

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 financial aid in the future.

If you already received financial aid for the current semester, dropping a class could mean returning some of the aid you’ve gotten.

Why does satisfactory academic progress matter?

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. But 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.

Appealing satisfactory academic progress

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 not be able 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.

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 their own 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.

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Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
Edited by
Student loans editor