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What Is Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?

By Josephine Nesbit · December 08, 2021 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is a school’s standard for satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate. If you’re one of the 13 million students receiving federal student aid in grants, loans, or work-study funds to help pay for college or career school, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA®, every year and meet your school’s SAP standards to continue receiving federal assistance.

According to federal regulations, students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress towards their degree or certificate may lose their eligibility for federal student aid. However, students can file a SAP appeal if they believe that extenuating circumstances prevented the successful completion of SAP requirements.

Here’s more information on Satisfactory Academic Progress and what steps to take for a SAP appeal.

What Does SAP Stand For in College?

SAP stands for Satisfactory Academic Progress. Each college and university has its own SAP policy for financial aid purposes.

Your school’s SAP policy will likely outline:

•  The grade point average (GPA) you need to maintain

•  How many credits or hours you must complete by the end of each academic year

•  How an incomplete class, withdrawal, repeated class, change of major or transfer of credits from another school affects your Satisfactory Academic Progress

•  How often your progress is evaluated

•  What will happen if you fail to meet SAP requirements

•  Whether you are able to appeal your school’s decision on your SAP status and approved reasons for an appeal

•  How you can get back eligibility for federal student aid

What Is Satisfactory Academic Progress?

The U.S. Department of Education requires that any student receiving federal financial aid meet and maintain academic progress standards as they continue through their educational program. This is known as Satisfactory Academic Progress, and a college’s student loan requirements must be at least as strict as the requirements stated by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and regulations at 34 CFR 668.34.

Colleges typically use an academic performance metric as well as a time-based metric to determine a student’s SAP status. To see your school’s standards for Satisfactory Academic Progress, check your school’s website or ask someone at the financial aid office.

Satisfactory Academic Progress GPA Requirement

Academic performance is based on a student’s GPA. Typically, if the academic program is two or more years, then the student must have a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA, or a grade of “C”, on a 4.0 scale by the end of the second academic year.

If the student’s degree or certificate program is a year or less in length, the school may evaluate academic performance after each academic term. If the program is longer than a year, the school must review academic performance at least once per year.

Recommended: Is a Post-Grad Certificate Program Worth It?

Satisfactory Academic Progress Credit Hour Requirement

You may need to enroll in and complete a minimum number of credit hours to receive financial aid for the year. Students must typically complete at least 67% of cumulative credits attempted in order to meet SAP requirements.

Dropping a class could potentially hurt your satisfactory academic progress if you are taking the minimum number of credit hours each year.

Satisfactory Academic Progress Completion Rate Requirement

Students must progress through their undergraduate program no longer than 150% of the published length of the educational program. For a four-year Bachelor’s degree program, 150% of the normal length is six years. For a two-year Associate’s degree program, 150% of the normal length is three years.

What Is SAP Used For?

SAP is used to make sure that students are at least meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress standards in order to continue receiving federal, state, or institutional aid. Part of the reason for SAP requirements is to prevent students from using financial aid as a form of welfare and indefinitely delay responsibilities to repay student loan debt.

What Is a SAP Violation?

A SAP violation means your GPA doesn’t meet satisfactory academic performance standards or you are in danger of not completing your degree or certificate within a certain timeframe. Federal regulations state that any student receiving federal financial aid who fails to meet SAP standards may lose their eligibility to receive federal assistance.

Some colleges may give out a financial aid warning if you don’t make Satisfactory Academic Progress. Financial aid will still be given after a warning, but academic performance must be improved after one academic term. If progress isn’t made by the end of the term, federal financial aid may be suspended.

SAP Appeal

If your financial aid has been revoked because you didn’t meet your school’s standards, you may be able to file a SAP appeal if your school allows it. Your SAP appeal may be accepted based on extenuating circumstances and whether it can be linked to poor academic performance. Some examples include:

•  Death of a relative

•  Severe personal injury or illness

•  Other extenuating circumstances determined by the school

SAP appeals generally include the following:

•  An explanation of what happened. Why weren’t you able to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress? Explain what the problem was, when the problem occurred, how long the problem lasted and how this affected your ability to satisfy SAP criteria.

•  An explanation of what has changed. Explain the corrective measures you have taken or will take to reach and maintain Satisfactory Academic Performance.

In addition to any forms required by your school, it may also be helpful to attach any relevant supporting documentation with your SAP appeal, such as a doctor’s note, hospital bill, or an obituary.

For information on how to file a SAP appeal, check your college’s website for directions.

SAP & Student Loans

If you’re successful in your request for a SAP appeal, your school may place you on financial aid probation. Although this allows you to continue receiving financial aid, probation that lasts longer than one academic term will require you to have an academic plan that addresses the faults that caused the financial aid suspension and to get you back on track. Academic progress is reviewed after each term while on probation.

On the other hand, if the SAP appeal was unsuccessful or if the school does not allow appeals, then financial aid is withdrawn until SAP requirements are met. Without financial aid, students are responsible for all costs associated with enrollment until they can raise their cumulative GPA to at least 2.0 and prove that they are on track to graduate within 150% of the normal timeframe.

While waiting for federal financial aid to be reinstated, students must pay costs out-of-pocket or rely on private student loans to help fund each academic term. Non-academic scholarships may be another option worth considering.

Explore Private Student Loan Options With SoFi

You must meet your college’s Satisfactory Academic Progress standards or risk losing federal financial aid in grants, student loans, or work-study funds. Contact your school’s financial aid office if you’re worried about your SAP standing, wish to complete an SAP appeal, or have any questions about your school’s SAP policy.

Recommended: Am I Eligible for Work-Study?

If you’re not eligible for federal student aid, there are other financing options out there to help pay for your education. Private Student Loans can cover up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance, which typically includes expenses like tuition, food, books and supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses.

While private loans can be useful in helping students fill any gaps in funding when paying for college, they aren’t required to offer the same benefits or borrower protections as federal student loans — things like deferment options or income-driven repayment plans. Private student loans are generally considered an option after all other sources of funding, including federal student loans, have been evaluated.

Recommended: A Guide to Private Student Loans

The Takeaway

Maintaining Satisfactory Academic Progress as outlined by your school is required in order to continue receiving federal financial aid for college. SAP requirements may include maintaining a minimum GPA, completing a certain percentage of enrolled classes each term, and completing your degree program within a time period.

Students who fail to meet SAP typically receive a warning and have the opportunity to get back on track. If they do not, they may lose their eligibility for federal student aid. If this happens, students may be able to appeal the decision directly with the school.

If students lose their financial aid, they’ll likely have to pay for education costs out-of-pocket or may consider private student loans. There are no fees when borrowing a SoFi private student loan and the application can be completed entirely online.

Learn more about how SoFi is helping students pay for their education with no-fee private student loans.

Photo credit: iStock/skynesher


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