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How satisfactory academic progress can affect your financial aid

If you fall behind, you could lose eligibility for scholarships, grants and student loans.

Your grades and how quickly you complete your degree can affect your eligibility for different types of financial aid — especially aid you don’t have to pay back. If you fall behind, you could lose your scholarships, grants and student loans. But you can file an appeal to regain eligibility in some situations.

What is satisfactory academic progress?

Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) are standards that measure your progress toward finishing a degree program. If you meet satisfactory academic progress, you’re on track to graduate on time. Each school has its own standards for satisfactory academic progress, though they typically consider the following three components:

  • GPA. Most schools have a minimum GPA to meet SAP, usually 2.0 or a C average.
  • Credits passed. You typically need to pass at least 67% of the credits you register for.
  • Timeframe limit. Generally, you need to take and pass enough credits to complete your degree within the maximum timeframe — which is 150% of the normal time it takes to complete the program. For example, the maximum timeframe for a four-year degree program is six years.

This usually only applies to courses that appear on your school’s transcript. AP credits, IB credits and other courses you took outside of your school that you didn’t transfer will have no affect on your SAP.

Most often your school will notify you if you’re not making SAP. It should also appear on your transcript.

How does SAP affect my financial aid?

Many financial aid programs require you to maintain SAP in order to qualify and remain eligible. These include:

  • Federal student aid. The Department of Education only offers federal loans, grants and the Federal Work-Study Program to students making satisfactory academic progress.
  • Merit scholarships. Many merit-based scholarships have even higher standards for their students, and you’ll likely lose funding if you’re not meeting SAP.
  • Athletic scholarships. Even scholarships based on talent typically have a SAP requirement.
  • Need-based grants. Many grant programs offered by your school and outside organizations either have their own academic progress standards or require SAP.
  • Work-study. School-based work-study programs generally require SAP.

How else can I lose my eligibility for federal aid?

What happens if I’m not making SAP?

If you’re not making SAP, most schools first put you on warning for a semester. This gives you time to make adjustments and get back on track before losing your financial aid. If you still aren’t able to make SAP after that semester, you’ll lose your eligibility for most financial aid.

What can I do if I’m not making SAP?

There are several steps you can take to regain your eligibility for financial aid if you aren’t making SAP. If not, you might want to consider other ways to fund your degree.

Improve your grades

The first step you should take is improve your grades. Cut back on extracurriculars and outside work, if possible — losing your financial aid might cost you more. Avoid withdrawing from courses after the drop period is over or enrolling in credits outside of your degree. And if necessary, consider getting a tutor.

If you’re able to improve your grades enough to get back on track for SAP, you don’t need to do anything other than maintain that level of academic progress.

File a SAP appeal

Sometimes it’s just not possible to work on your grades to meet SAP. Instead, you might be able to file an appeal under the following circumstances:

  • Illness or injury. If you or an immediate member of your family gets hurt or sick.
  • Death. If a relative close to you dies.
  • Personal issues. If you’re a victim of domestic violence or have another family problem that affects your grades.

How to file a SAP appeal

Each school has its own SAP appeal process. To find out how it works, reach out to your school’s financial aid office. In some cases, you might have to fill out a form with supporting documents. In others cases, you might have to write a letter explaining your situation. You’ll likely also need to meet with your academic adviser to work on a plan for getting back on track when you’re ready.

What should I include in my SAP appeal letter?

Generally, you need to include the following information in your SAP appeal letter:

  • Name, student ID and contact information
  • Paragraph summarizing why you didn’t meet SAP
  • Paragraph describing how you plan to meet SAP in the future
  • Paragraph describing documents to support the first two paragraphs

Reach out to your school to make sure you aren’t leaving anything out.

What documents should I include?

Include any documents that can support your reasons for not meeting SAP and plans to get back on track. These might include:

  • Travel receipts
  • Letters from family members confirming your story
  • Police reports
  • Doctor’s notes
  • Medical bills
  • Statement from a professor or academic adviser
  • Emails confirming meetings with an academic adviser
  • Copy of a death certificate

Most schools recommend that you file your appeal as soon as you find out you’re not meeting SAP. Some schools have deadlines, and often appeals are treated on a first-come, first-served basis. If you wait to appeal, you might not get approved in time to reinstate your financial aid.

Look for loopholes

In some cases, you might be able to meet SAP again by switching majors or even transferring schools. Your school might not count the courses you took for a previous major toward SAP, offering you a fresh start.

Or you might be able to regain eligibility by dropping to half-time enrollment and covering the cost yourself by working part time.

Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to find out if either of these are possibilities.

Apply for private aid without SAP requirements

After you’ve exhausted all other options, you might want to apply for financial aid that doesn’t come with SAP requirements. These mainly include:

  • Private student loans. Private student loans generally don’t have any academic requirements, even those that offer better rates for good grades. But you might need to bring on a cosigner to qualify.
  • Private scholarships and grants. Smaller scholarship and grants in particular often don’t have SAP requirements.

Apply for free aid first to reduce the amount of private student loans you need to borrow.

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Bottom line

Maintaining SAP is essential for a generous financial aid package. Without meeting your school’s SAP requirements, you can’t receive any kind of federal aid, as well as some private scholarships and grants. While you won’t necessarily need to pay out of pocket, your options are severely limited. You can learn more about your options by reading our guide to student loans.

Frequently asked questions

How does withdrawing from a course affect my SAP?

It depends on your school’s policy. But in general, withdrawing from a course after the drop period counts as an attempted credit that you didn’t complete. Too many withdrawn courses and you won’t meet your school’s requirement for passed credits. Generally, it won’t affect your GPA requirement.

Do graduate students have the same SAP standards as undergraduates?

Generally, no. Graduate students typically have higher GPA requirements than undergraduate students.

Can I regain my financial aid eligibility if I’ve gone over the maximum time frame for my degree?

You might have a more difficult time if you’ve surpassed 150% of the normal time it takes to complete your program. In that case, you might want to consider other financial aid options.

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