What is Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?

What is Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?

Colleges use Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) as a benchmark to evaluate students’ steady progress towards completing their degree. More importantly, SAP directly impacts financial aid eligibility. If a student does not maintain SAP, they risk losing federal, state, and institutional funding. SAP is measured by three areas: (1) a minimum GPA, (2) completion of credit hours, and (3) a maximum time frame based on the specific degree program. All colleges have their own set of SAP requirements that follow underlying federal regulations. These requirements must be continuously evaluated by the financial aid office.

What Are Common Requirements for Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)?

Though requirements vary per college and financial aid program, students must generally maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 on a 4-point scale with at least 67% of the credits they attempt towards their degree in good standing. They also must stay within a 150% maximum completion timeframe, which, for example, would equal 6 years for a traditional 4-year degree program.

In addition to these minimum requirements, a school’s SAP policy will also feature:

  1. the effects of transferred credits, incomplete classes, withdrawals, repeated classes, and change of major;
  2. how frequently evaluations occur;
  3. what happens if requirements are not met;
  4. how to submit an appeal, if permitted; and
  5. how to regain federal aid eligibility.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) at Work

Let’s use John, for example. John is a pursuing his bachelor’s degree and is relying on federal aid to pay for college, so it’s important to him that he maintain SAP. At the end of each semester, John’s university evaluates his performance and relays that information to their financial aid office. At the end of his fall semester, John has maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.2, has successfully completed 13 out of 15 enrolled credits (87%), and is expected to graduate within the maximum time frame for his 4-year bachelor’s program. Has he maintained SAP?

Let’s see how he compares to his college’s standards:

John University
GPA (out of 4.0) 3.2 2.0
Cumulative Attempted Credits 87% 67%
Maximum Timeframe (150%) 4.5 years 6 years

The answer is yes. Because John met all his university’s requirements, he has maintained SAP and will continue to be eligible for federal aid.

But what happens in a different scenario? Let’s say John successfully completed 9 out of 15 enrolled credits. As a result, his cumulative GPA is calculated to be 2.13. Because of the 6 failed credits (9 out of 15 completed), his academic advisor says that he will likely graduate even later. Has he maintained SAP?

John University
GPA (out of 4.0) 2.13 2.0
Cumulative Attempted Credits 60% 67%
Maximum Timeframe (150%) 5.5 years 6 years

In this scenario, because John has not met the cumulative attempted credits requirement, he has not met SAP. However, his school will likely issue him a warning first. Typically warning periods last for an additional semester, and during that time John will be expected to work towards meeting all three of the measurement requirements by the end of his probationary term. Ultimately, he should meet with his academic advisor or financial aid office to discuss next steps.

FAQs about Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

When is SAP calculated?

Generally, SAP is calculated at the end of each semester, though some colleges calculate SAP annually after each spring semester. Students should check with their college’s financial aid office to see what their preferred timeline is.

What happens if you don’t meet SAP?

SAP directly impacts financial aid eligibility. If students are in good standing, so is their financial aid. But if students fail to meet SAP, their financial aid is at risk due to federal regulations. Federal, state, or institutional aid will be withheld until SAP is met.

How do you usually appeal SAP?

Typically, students are requested to write a letter or submit an appeal form to their school’s financial aid office. The appeal should detail why they couldn’t maintain SAP, how they plan to improve, and the tools they’ll use to get there. Supporting documents are strongly suggested. Some colleges also require students to submit a signed academic improvement plan from their advisor. Since requirements vary by school, students should contact their financial aid office for more information.

Is SAP the same thing as “academic standing”?

No, these terms are different. Academic standing is strictly defined by GPA, whereas SAP includes additional parameters like progress towards completion in the form of credit hours and timeframe.

Do all successfully attempted credits count toward SAP?

No, not all of them. For successfully attempted credits to count, students must take courses that are earned toward their degree. For example, if a student is enrolled in 15 credits, but 6 of those credits aren’t included in their degree progression, those 6 credits will not be included in the SAP formula.

What happens to your SAP if you change majors?

Generally, students who switch majors are still expected to maintain SAP and meet all requirements. All credits taken in the previous major will usually still count towards the cumulative GPA, though this may vary per university. Some colleges may allow students to establish a new SAP plan for their new degree. When in doubt, students should always refer to their academic advisor and financial aid office for more information.

Maintaining Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

Remember, SAP takes your GPA, completed credit hours, and pace into account. To maintain SAP, try to enroll in at least 15 credits per semester, work hard, study hard, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you feel like you’re falling behind, don’t wait until you have to file an appeal – be proactive. And, if you change majors or transfer schools, understand that you’ll likely be expected to uphold SAP. Your financial aid office is the best place to find the latest information about SAP, so don’t be afraid to contact them with any questions. Most importantly, professors, advisors, and staff are all available to help you as you navigate the process.

If you do find yourself seeking additional financial aid, College Ave can help you cover up to 100% of your cost of attendance with student loans.


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