Financial Aid •
December 28, 2021
SAP Appeal Letter: What You Need to Know
If your financial aid is suspended due to academic performance, you may be able to file an SAP appeal letter to reverse the decision. Here’s how.
College is expensive, and it’s only getting pricier, with the average cost attending college rising by around 6.8% each year.
Fortunately, Uncle Sam is often willing to help with some of the costs of attending college by offering federal financial aid.
Financial aid helps millions of students each year. In fact, 86.4% of applicants received some sort of financial aid in the 2019–2020 school year!
However, financial aid is generally only available to those who are making progress toward a degree. If you fall behind on Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) measures, you could risk losing your financial aid.
The good news is that if your college places you in financial aid suspension, you may be able to appeal the decision by submitting an SAP appeal letter.
This detailed guide covers everything you need to know about the SAP appeal process, as well as how to write an SAP appeal letter that meets all your school’s requirements.
Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) and how it’s measured
Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) is a way for schools to measure whether a student is making progress toward a degree or certificate.
SAP standards require you to complete your coursework within the required timeframe while earning the minimum grade point average (GPA) or better.
In other words, SAP is a broad measure of how well a student is performing in academics.
GPA and pace (number of credits taken per semester/quarter) are generally the most important rating factors. Your completion rate of classes may also apply, and many schools put a cap on the maximum length of time it takes to earn a degree while continuing to get financial aid.
Each school has its own specific metrics for SAP. In general, the standards are set by your school’s financial aid department because SAP is used mainly to gauge your ongoing eligibility for federal financial aid. Check with your school (or look on their website) for their specific requirements.
Example of SAP requirements
Let’s look at an example. Portland State University has the following requirements for students to maintain satisfactory academic progress:
Maintain a cumulative GPA of at least a 2.0 for undergraduates or a 3.0 for graduates.
Complete at least 2/3 of attempted credits.
Be on track to complete a degree or certificate within 150% of the number of credits required for the program. This means that if a degree requires 180 credits, a student must complete the degree within a maximum of 270 attempted credits.
The requirements above are just an example from one specific school, but most universities and colleges have similar requirements. Check with your school for details—and read this page on studentaid.gov for more information.
What is an SAP appeal letter?
If you fall behind on SAP requirements—for example, by dropping under the minimum required GPA—you’ll no longer be eligible for federal financial aid. Your financial aid will be suspended, and you won’t receive any aid for the next academic period (unless you successfully appeal the decision).
This could make it hard to pay for college if you were counting on that money.
If this disruption in your academic performance was caused by an unexpected event—such as severe illness, a death in the family, mental health struggles, etc.—then you may be able to appeal the decision.
Check with your school to see if appealing an SAP decision is possible, and if so, how to proceed.
Writing an SAP appeal letter is generally the first step in the appeals process (if your school allows for appeals).
An SAP appeal letter should contain information on what happened and why it caused you to fall behind in your studies.
It should also include what has changed and why you now expect to be able to meet the requirements moving forward.
Finally, it should include documentation about the event, such as a doctor’s note to support an illness.
Reasons to appeal an SAP decision
To successfully appeal an SAP decision, you need to have a good reason. Simply falling behind on your studies or missing an important test without a good reason aren’t valid reasons to appeal the SAP decision.
Some of the most common reasons behind successful SAP appeals are:
Medical emergencies (a car accident, for example)
Severe health issues
Mental health emergencies
Severe family issues (a death in the family, for example)
Severe financial problems
Schools may approve SAP appeals for other reasons than those listed.
Common excuses that schools typically do not accept as valid SAP appeal reasons include:
Unpreparedness for college coursework
Understanding the financial aid suspension appeals process
Each year—and multiple times a year at certain schools—the financial aid department will evaluate satisfactory academic progress for all students who receive financial aid.
This is often done in the spring quarter, but the timing can vary at each school.
Any student that isn’t meeting SAP standards will receive a written notice of Financial Aid Suspension. The notice will explain the factor(s) that contributed to the fall in SAP ratings—a drop in GPA, for example. The letter will also explain steps that you can take to appeal the decision.
If an appeal isn’t submitted, students not meeting SAP standards will be unable to receive federal financial aid in the next academic period. If you have a valid reason for the drop in academic performance, it’s very important to appeal the decision.
Appealing a financial aid suspension generally looks like this:
1. You’ll need to research the appeals process at your school (contact the financial aid office for details, or check for instructions in the SAP notice).
2. You’ll likely need to file an SAP appeal form online.
3. You’ll submit an SAP appeal letter that explains what happened to cause the academic disruption.
4. The school’s financial aid department will review the appeal and either approve or deny it.
5. If the school approves the appeal, you’ll typically enter financial aid probation. You’ll need to put in place an SAP plan to get back on track, and you’ll be in a probationary period for at least one semester/quarter.
6. If the school denies the appeal, you’ll remain in financial aid suspension. Most schools don’t allow a second appeal unless circumstances have changed again.
How to write an SAP appeal letter
Writing a good SAP appeal letter is very important. Here’s how students should go about the process:
1. Research school requirements
Each school will have slightly different requirements for appeals. Check with the financial aid department, or research online. You may also find some information in your financial aid suspension notice.
2. Research where to submit the letter—and when
SAP appeal letters typically go to the financial aid office, but larger schools may have a dedicated department. Students should research these details ahead of time to make sure their letter reaches the right person. You should take note of any deadlines for the appeal as well.
3. Consider using an SAP appeal letter template
Students can find templates of successful SAP appeal letters online. If you’re not sure how to structure or word your letter, this can be a good option.
4. Submit any necessary forms
Some schools may ask for a specific appeal form in addition to an SAP appeal letter. Check with your school’s financial aid department for details.
5. Submit any necessary academic plans
Many schools require a detailed academic plan that shows how the student will return to meeting SAP standards. A separate degree worksheet may also be required. These documents are often submitted separately from the appeal letter itself.
6. Write and submit the letter
Write your SAP appeal letter, keeping it brief and to the point. Admit the problem upfront, and be honest. Explain what happened and what has changed that will allow you to return to satisfactory academic performance.
Your letter should be brief, honest, and include all the necessary information and documentation. More information on the specific items to include in your letter can be found below.
What should I include in my SAP appeal letter?
When writing your SAP appeal letter, be sure to include the following:
Appeal statement: Start with a simple statement acknowledging that you’ve received notice of financial aid ineligibility and explaining that you would like to appeal the decision.
What happened: Explain the extenuating circumstances that happened and why this prevented you from meeting SAP standards. What was the problem? When did it occur, and how long did it last? Be specific and honest.
What has changed: Explain what has changed since the issue occurred that gives you confidence that you’ll now be able to meet SAP standards. Be specific and confident.
Appropriate documentation: Include documentation proving what happened. This could be a doctor’s note, an obituary of a family member, a hospital bill, etc. You may need to submit this documentation separately and then reference it in your letter.
At some schools, the SAP appeal is a specific form that must be filled out, while the SAP appeal letter is merely an explanation of why the appeal is being made. Be sure to check with your school to ensure you meet all the requirements for their appeals process.
SAP appeal letter sample
Here’s an example of an SAP appeal letter you can use to create your own:
I wish to appeal my financial aid ineligibility as a result of my failing to meet SAP standards during the 2020–2021 academic year.
On November 9, 2020, I was involved in a serious car accident. I broke multiple bones and had to be hospitalized for 3 days before being released to bed rest at home for an additional 2 weeks. I attended in-person physical therapy 3 times per week for the following 4 weeks.
This accident and my subsequent recovery prevented me from attending in-person classes, and I was unable to keep up with homework due to fatigue and the side effects of medication. As a result, I fell behind on my studies, and my GPA dropped under the minimum SAP requirements.
As of today’s date, I am fully healed and ready to return to my studies. I intend to register for and complete the courses that I failed last semester. I am confident that I will be able to complete all my classes and earn high marks this coming semester.
I have attached the following documents:
A copy of the hospital bill showing the dates of my stay
A confirmation from my insurance company acknowledging the accident date and severity
A note from my doctor explaining my physical therapy schedule
A detailed academic plan for getting back on track
Alejandra De León
Having your financial aid cut off can be a terrifying experience—but the result isn't necessarily set in stone.
If you have a legitimate reason for falling behind on your academic progress, it’s well worth submitting an SAP appeal letter.
Want some help navigating the financial aid and scholarship progress? Check out Mos! Mos helps students take advantage of all the resources available to them to help pay for college.