About 84% of American students receive some form of federal financial aid. However, it is important to make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), otherwise you risk losing this advantage.
Each school has a different set of SAP standards. In general, you are expected to maintain a certain GPA while steadily progressing towards graduation.
Let’s take a closer look at SAP and what to do if you find yourself falling behind.
Why satisfactory academic progress is important
For many students, federal financial aid is the only way to pay for their education. In fact, more than 10 million American students benefit from the government’s annual distribution of $150 billion in scholarships, work-study funds, and federal student loans.
However, federal aid is not free for everyone. Students must meet and maintain certain requirements to continue receiving financial support, including adhering to their school’s Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policy. Failure to do so could result in a financial aid warning or probation, which could affect your future aid eligibility.
Without a financial aid package, you’ll have to find another way to cover your university costs, such as paying out of pocket, asking family for help, or applying for private student loans – although many private lenders also impose restrictions SAP.
Also, some schools won’t accept alternative loans if you don’t meet their SAP standards.
How to Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress
It is up to the college or university to define its own SAP standards. Additionally, your school’s SAP requirements may vary depending on whether you are an undergraduate, graduate, or professional.
In order to meet a school’s SAP requirements and continue to receive financial aid, students generally must meet the following conditions:
- Get good grades: For undergraduate programs, you will generally need to maintain a C average or higher, or a GPA of at least 2.0 on a 4.0 scale. Graduate programs often require a minimum GPA of 3.0.
- Skip a certain percentage of courses: Most schools require you to earn credit for at least 67% of your enrolled courses each semester. Make sure you know how dropping a course, repeating a course, dropping out, changing majors, or transferring credits from another school impacts your SAP ranking.
- Complete your degree within a specified time: Many programs want you to complete your degree within 150% of the typical program length. For example, since a bachelor’s degree most often takes four years, you have a six-year window to complete all the requirements. (You can also check out our guide on how to finish college faster.)
Remember that SAP rules apply to entire period you get help, and not just when you ask for it. Also, specific scholarships may have even stricter academic performance requirements than those outlined here.
It’s worth talking to your school’s financial aid counselors to understand their specific SAP policy. Some schools even have an SAP calculator on their website to help you track your progress.
What happens if you don’t meet your university’s SAP standards?
Most colleges won’t immediately withdraw your financial aid as soon as your grades start to drop. Instead, they usually issue a warning that you are about to fail the SAP guidelines.
Your financial aid must continue during the warning period, which usually lasts one semester. During this time, you should use all available resources to improve your grades, such as learning and tutoring centers.
Ultimately, if you do not meet your school’s progression requirements after the one-semester warning period ends, your financial aid may be suspended.
How to appeal suspension of financial aid
If your school is suspending your financial aid, you can check to see if they allow an SAP appeal. You will most likely need to provide a one-page letter explaining what happened and what you plan to do to fix it.
Here are some common situations where an appeal might be considered:
- Personal difficulties: If you or a member of your immediate family has suffered a serious illness or injury, or if you have faced financial difficulties, you can inform your school officials.
- Death in the family: You will likely need to submit documents, such as a death certificate or obituary.
- Emergency Circumstances: Perhaps you have been the victim of domestic violence or have had legal or family problems. These are all the details that can go into your SAP call letter.
Additionally, you will need to outline specific steps you plan to take to improve your academic standing, such as repeating failed classes, enrolling in tutoring sessions, or enrolling in summer courses.
Understand the results of your SAP call
Most schools will notify you of your appeal within 30 days. However, there is no industry standard on how often SAP calls are approved. Ultimately, it is up to your school to approve or deny your appeal based on your particular situation.
If your appeal is approved, you could be placed on probation, which typically allows you a semester to rectify issues while continuing to receive federal financial aid. Your school may impose additional stipulations, such as creating and adhering to an academic plan. If you do not meet the criteria at the end of your probationary period, your financial aid will most likely be suspended.
If your appeal is denied, you may be able to reapply. However, some schools have stipulations on how many times you can submit an appeal. Either way, you can usually continue to attend school, but you’ll need to find another way to fund your tuition. (See our guide to college without financial aid here.)
Alternatively, you can consider a potential SAP workaround, which is changing majors or degrees, or transferring to another school. For example, if your previous grades and courses do not apply to your new concentration or university, you may be able to start over. This is probably not the best course of action, as many schools look at your past academic performance to determine your eligibility for aid. Also, a transfer could affect your college loans.
In the end, the best course of action is to work hard to stay on top of your classes and ask for help. before you start to fail. While it can be difficult to get satisfactory academic progress back on track, with a little patience, creativity, commitment, and a lot of reality check, it can be done.