Getting into college is a great accomplishment, but the work doesn't stop there. Schools expect their students to meet certain academic requirements—known as satisfactory academic progress (SAP).
Every school is required to have a policy for what it considers SAP. By understanding your school's policy, you can avoid some pretty severe repercussions and stay on the road to completing your college education on time.
What Is SAP?
To make sure you use your federal financial aid money wisely and finish your education in a timely manner, the government requires every school to have an SAP policy for students. These policies ensure that you're making the appropriate strides toward earning your degree in a reasonable amount of time as you receive federal financial aid.
Most schools require you to be on track to complete your program within 150% of the published timeframe (so, within 6 years for a 4-year program), while maintaining at least a 2.0 overall grade point average (GPA). Check with your school's financial aid office to find out any specifics that may pertain to you. They'll either provide you with a copy of their SAP policy or tell you where you can find one. Many schools post this information on their websites.
What's In My School's SAP Policy?
SAP policies outline everything you need to do academically to keep receiving financial aid at your school, including:
- How low your GPA can drop without being in danger of losing financial aid.
- How many credits you need to complete each year to graduate within a reasonable timeframe.
- How a dropped, incomplete, or repeated class can impact your SAP standing.
- How changing your major or transferring credits can factor into your SAP standing.
- How often your SAP is evaluated, and how much time you have to meet the school's standards. (Your progress will likely be evaluated on an annual basis if you're enrolled in a program that takes longer than 1 year to complete.)
What Happens If I Don't Meet My School's SAP Requirements?
If you fall short of your school's requirements, your financial aid could be suspended—or you could be temporarily prohibited from attending the school. Some, but not all, schools will issue you a warning to let you know that you've dropped below their SAP standards and you have a limited amount of time to improve your grades or complete extra classes.
For instance, you may be granted one semester to complete a certain number of credits and improve your grades. Some schools will require you to file an appeal in order to be placed in a warning or probation period. Again, all of the details will be listed in your school's SAP policy, so make sure that you understand how the process works—especially if your grades begin to slip for any reason.
If you receive a warning, you'll continue to be eligible for financial aid during your warning period. However, you'll need to meet the SAP requirements again by the time your warning period ends. If you don't improve your SAP standing during that time, you'll lose your financial aid eligibility. If that happens, you'll need to make alternate arrangements to pay for your education—like borrowing private student loans, which could end up costing you significantly more in the long run.
Appealing An SAP Decision
Your school's SAP policy will explain if you're allowed to appeal the SAP decision and how to do it. Appealing may allow you to get your financial aid back. Successful appeals typically require you to prove that there was a legitimate reason for your poor academic performance and to explain what has changed that will allow you to get back on track. So, it won't fly to say that you were just goofing off for a while and you're ready to start studying now. You may also need to propose an academic plan as part of your appeal. If this is the case, work with your academic adviser to create one.
Examples of acceptable appeals would be if you suffered an illness or experienced a death in your family that affected your academic performance. Once you recover from your illness or deal with the loss and provide an academic plan outlining how you'll meet the SAP criteria going forward, your school will likely consider your appeal.
Not all appeals are approved, however. That decision is up to the discretion of the school, so be prepared to find other ways to cover your costs if your appeal is denied.
Can I Get My Financial Aid Back If I Lose It?
Yes. Your school's SAP policy will tell you how you can go about regaining your financial aid eligibility if you lose it due to academic performance issues. You'll likely need to demonstrate that you're able to meet the academic requirements again. So, leaving school for a semester or paying full price for a period of time won't be enough.
You'll still have to get your grades up or take extra classes to make up for any that you miss or fail to complete. Once you do that, though, you may be able to start receiving your financial aid again and get yourself back on the path to completing your degree.