Wallet with no money. Student didn't make satisfactory academic progress and needed to pay out-of-pocket.

What Is Satisfactory Academic Progress? Why is it important?

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NOTE: Each institution has control over the exact standards. Ask your financial aid office or college advisor for help on understanding your school’s policy.

When I was in college, I focused on one class at a time. That’s what most students do. But you can’t forget about the bigger picture. 

If you’re using any type of federal financial aid, you need to understand what Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is.

You may be wondering what the standards are and why it’s important to understand them. Fortunately, I’ve got all the information you need to know in order to understand what SAP measures and how to achieve it.

What is satisfactory academic progress?

Satisfactory Academic Progress (or SAP) is a term used to describe the minimum requirements a student needs to achieve in order to continue using federal financial aid. If you fail to meet SAP requirements, you will lose your financial aid eligibility. This can happen after any semester or once a year, depending on your specific school’s policy.

What are the satisfactory academic progress standards?

There are three benchmarks you must meet to be in good academic standing.

Maximum Timeframe for Completion

Most schools will allow you 150% of the total credits it requires to graduate. Here’s a simple example.


Program credit requirements to graduate: 60

Number of credits you can attempt and still be eligible for aid: 90

90/60 = 1.5 or 150%

If you exceed whatever number of credits your institution allows, you will need to appeal to receive more aid, and you will be placed on Financial Aid Probation. You can continue to take classes, but unless you successfully appeal for financial aid, you will not be eligible to receive it.

Cumulative Grade Point Average (cGPA)

Your cumulative GPA  (cGPA) will be calculated at specific points in the year – usually after each semester or once a year.  If you don’t know which classes will be used to calculate this, I implore you to ask either your college advisor or the financial aid office. Remedial coursework may or may not count towards this calculation. Make sure you are clear on that point.

Institutions have the flexibility to determine what cGPA you need to meet at different parts of your college career. Make sure you understand the policy!

Completion Percentage

There is a certain percentage you will need to maintain for successfully completed classes.  This may or may not include remedial courses. The federal’s requirement is a 67% completion rate, but schools are permitted to make stricter requirements.


  1. You attempt to pass 18 credits your first semester, but you withdrew from 3 credits.
    • successfully completed/attempted = 15/18 = .83 = 83%
  2. You attempt to pass 15 credits your first semester, but you fail 3 credits and withdraw from 3 credits.
    • 9/15 = .60 = 60%
  3. Your school does not include remedial courses in the completion percentage. You take 9 credits of standard credit courses and 3 credits of remedial coursework. You withdraw from one of your standard credit courses.
    1. 6/9 = 0.6666 = 66.66% – Will your school round up? I don’t know.

Financial Aid Warning vs. Financial Aid Probation

Financial Aid Warning

Not all schools use this term/designation. If yours does not, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your cGPA, completion percentage, and how many credits you’ve attempted. You want to make sure you stay ahead of the requirements so that you don’t get a letter in the mail that you weren’t expecting.

For schools that do utilize the term – Financial Aid Warning is used as… a warning. It alerts students, “Hey! You need to clean up your cGPA and/or completion percentage so you can continue receiving financial aid!”

You will have one term to meet SAP standards. If you fail to meet them, you will need to submit a SAP appeal. See your advisor for details on how to do that.

Financial Aid Probation

This is the term used for students who failed to meet SAP after being placed on Warning AND successfully appealed to have their financial aid reinstated. You will be placed on an academic plan at this point. If you fail to meet the requirements of your academic plan, you’re supposed to have to appeal again. (I’m not sure how many institutions require this – but they’re supposed to!)

Reasons you may not meet SAP requirements

There are so many different scenarios that can lead to not being able to fulfill Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements. Each institution has been given a decent amount of flexibility on how they calculate SAP, so this list is not comprehensive by any measure. These are the most common scenarios I’ve seen in my career.

Some of these reasons may surprise you.

No, I’m not kidding. Schools may or may not include previous coursework for a different major into the amount of credits they will allow to be covered by financial aid.


You graduated with an associate degree (60 credits) in English, but then decided to pursue a career in Nursing. Well, the Nursing program has very specific requirements, and most of the courses you took already do not count toward Nursing.

Let’s say only 15 credits will go toward the Nursing program. Let’s also say the Nursing program requires 60 credits, so you have 45 credits remaining.

If the school includes everything you took for your previous program, you’ve already attempted 60 credits (at minimum). That means once you attempt 30 more credits for the Nursing program, you’ll have met 150% of the maximum timeframe allowed from completion, and you will lose your financial aid. Then it would be time to appeal and hope the Appeals Committee approves it.

You might be saying, “But I didn’t fail them! They don’t affect my GPA!” That’s true, but they do affect your completion percentage.  So even if you have a high cGPA, you still have the potential to go on financial aid warning.


You earn all As and Bs your first semester, and you took 15 credits. Awesome job!

Uh oh – During your second semester, something happens, and you need to withdraw from all of your courses. You’re in 15 credits.

When your academic record is reviewed by the financial aid office, they will see you have a completion percentage of 50%. (15 credits successfully completed out of 30 credits attempted.)

You will be put on Financial Aid Warning. When you enroll in courses the next time, make sure you get that completion percentage up, or you will lose your financial aid eligibility.

Failing grades are counted towards your completion percentage and cGPA


Let’s say you’re in your first semester, and you didn’t get a great start. You attempted 12 credits, and you earned two Fs and two Cs. Not only will you be at 50% for your completion percentage, you also will have a pretty low cGPA that could potentially put you on warning.

SAP did not exist before 2011. So, if you went to college before that, you may have faced different consequences for failing or withdrawing from a lot of courses. Maybe you didn’t get any consequences at all.

It will catch up to you once you go back to college, though. Those previous courses are included in the cGPA and maximum timeframe and completion percentage calculations.

If that is your situation, I know you were totally blindsided when you went to sign up for classes. I’m sure you’re frustrated, confused, and possibly even a bit shocked and sad. Maybe even angry. I bet you feel like the school is punishing you for things you did years ago. (They’re not, I promise. Their hands are tied!)

If this happens to you, you’ll automatically be placed on either financial aid warning or probation, depending on the specifics of your case.

Your completion percentage and cGPA will follow you for federal financial aid purposes. If you had a not-so-awesome academic experience at your other institution(s), it will follow you to the next school.

What happens if you don’t meet the SAP requirements?

  1. You will be placed on Financial Aid Warning for one term. You are given the chance to increase your GPA and/or completion percentage.
  2. If you don’t meet the SAP requirements after that term, you will need to successfully appeal in order to receive financial aid, and you will be put on Financial Aid Probation.
  3. Part of the appeals process usually consists of an academic plan, which gives you requirements to meet. If you do not meet the requirements of your academic plan at the end of the next term, you are supposed to be required to appeal again.

Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeals

I’ll write a more detailed explanation about SAP appeals in the future, but keep in mind one thing:

The federal government allows a student to appeal more than once, but that doesn’t mean your school does. Schools aren’t even required to permit appeals. Your school has given you a second chance. Don’t squander it.

Final Thoughts

You made it! Confusing, isn’t it?! SAP requirements can be pretty complex, but everything should be outlined in your school’s Satisfactory Academic Progress policy. If you can’t find it, be sure to talk to the financial aid office so you understand the specifics.

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