Satisfactory Academic Progress: What It Is, How to Appeal

Satisfactory Academic Progress is the standard students must meet to remain eligible for federal financial aid.
Teddy Nykiel
By Teddy Nykiel 
Edited by Alexandra Rice

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To remain eligible for federal financial aid — grants, work-study funds and student loans — college students must meet certain standards in the classroom, known as satisfactory academic progress. Here’s an overview of SAP and how to appeal if you’re not meeting the required benchmarks.

What is satisfactory academic progress?

To meet the SAP standards and stay eligible for federal financial aid, students typically need to do all of the following:

  • Maintain a certain grade point average

  • Complete a certain percentage of attempted credits

  • Make progress toward completing their degree within a certain time frame

Each school sets its own satisfactory academic progress policy, but typically students need to maintain at least a C average and be on pace to complete their program within 150% of the program’s length, according to the 2023-24 Federal Student Aid Handbook. Some schools have SAP calculators to help determine your pace. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out the specific requirements you need to meet.

What happens if you don't make satisfactory academic progress?

If you don’t make satisfactory academic progress, the school may give you a financial aid warning. You’ll still receive financial aid during the warning period, which typically lasts for one academic term. If you don’t catch up by the end of your warning period, your federal financial aid can be suspended.

How to make a SAP appeal

If you lose your federal financial aid eligibility because you didn’t meet your school’s SAP standards, you can appeal if the school allows it. Your school may accept your appeal if you experienced one of the following situations:

  • You or an immediate family member has a serious illness or injury

  • Death of a relative

  • Other special circumstances, such as domestic violence or family issues

In your appeal, explain why you didn’t make satisfactory academic progress and give examples of what you’re doing to catch up. Include copies of any relevant documents, such as a doctor’s note or obituary.

Here is an example of a successful SAP appeal letter from the University of California - Berkley, financial aid office:

First Paragraph: Describe what happened that prevented you from meeting SAP.


My first semester at Cal found me overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the academic rigor of the schedule and classes. I was unsure how or where to seek out help, and as a result, developed anxiety. I quickly fell behind and struggled to keep up. At one point, I stopped attending classes because I was so far behind and felt that no matter what I did, I would not catch up. My grades suffered and my anxiety increased. I started to wonder if being at Cal was where I was supposed to be.

Second Paragraph: Described what has or will change and what support systems are in place to ensure success.

Example: After that first semester, I got connected to the Tang Center, Student Learning Center, and sought out support through EOP. I registered with the Disabled Students Program (DSP) and took a reduced course load. I met with my college adviser to map out what classes I needed to take to get me back on track and how to approach the work. As you will see, my grades for spring improved over those in fall.

Third Paragraph- Tell us about your supporting documentation

Example: 

  • Verification of appointment times at Tang

  • DSP reduced course load letter

What happens after you submit a satisfactory academic progress appeal

If your appeal is successful, you’ll be placed on financial aid probation and remain eligible for federal financial aid. During the probation period, your school may require you to have an academic plan for getting back on track.

If your appeal is unsuccessful, your financial aid will be suspended until you meet the SAP standards. Contact the school’s financial aid office to understand what you need to do to make satisfactory academic progress and your options for paying for college in the meantime. You may be able to get a private student loan, but some private lenders also require students to be making satisfactory academic progress.

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