Financial aid •

November 11, 2022

SAP appeal letter: what you need to know

Have you lost your financial aid eligibility? Check out this guide from Mos to find out how you can appeal the decision.

What you need to know about an SAP Appeal Letter

Let’s face it: college is expensive, and it’s only getting pricier. With the average cost of attending college rising by around 6.8% each year, students are currently looking at an average annual cost of $35,331 per year.

Fortunately, Uncle Sam is often willing to help out with some of the costs of attending college by offering federal financial aid.

Financial aid helps millions of students each year. 83.8% of applicants received some sort of financial aid in the 2020–2021 school year! That being said, financial aid is generally only available to students 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 on a 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 and how to write an SAP appeal letter that meets all your school’s requirements.

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What is Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) and how is it measured?

Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) is a way for schools to measure whether a student is making progress toward a degree or certificate. 

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

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” (which is the number of credits taken per semester/quarter) are generally the most important rating factors. The completion rate of your classes may also apply, and it’s worth pointing out that a lot of schools also put a cap on the maximum length of time it takes to earn a degree while continuing to benefit from your financial aid package.

Each school has its own specific metrics for SAP.

Generally speaking, these academic standards are set by your school’s financial aid department. That’s because SAP is used mainly to gauge your ongoing financial aid eligibility to keep receiving federal support.

When in doubt, you should check with your school (or look on their website) for their specific requirements.

Example of SAP requirements

We’ve covered what SAP is and why it’s important. Now, let’s look at an SAP example. 

Portland State University has the following requirements for students to maintain satisfactory academic progress:

  • You must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 if you’re an undergraduate or 3.0 for graduate school students.

  • You need to complete at least 2/3 of the attempted credits.

  • You must be on track to complete a degree or certificate within 150% of the number of credits required for the program. If a degree requires 180 credits, you’ll need to complete your 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. 

Again, you should 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 to receive federal financial aid. That means your financial aid will be suspended, and you won’t receive any aid for the next academic period (unless you successfully appeal the decision).

SAP appeal letter

If you lose your financial aid eligibility and start missing out on federal funding, that’s probably going to make it pretty hard to pay for college if you were counting on that money.

But if this disruption in your academic performance was caused by an unexpected event—such as severe illness, a death in the family, or mental health struggles—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 with that appeal). 

Writing an SAP appeal letter is generally the first step in the appeals process—assuming that your school allows for financial aid appeals.

An SAP appeal letter should contain information on what happened and why it caused you to fall behind in your studies. 

Your SAP appeal letter 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’ll need to prove to your college or university that you have a good reason. Unfortunately, simply falling behind on your studies or missing an important test without a good reason aren’t valid reasons to appeal the SAP decision.

Reasons to appeal a 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 

That being said, it’s important to note this is just the tip of the iceberg. Schools may approve SAP appeals for other reasons than those listed.

Common excuses that schools typically don't accept as valid SAP appeal reasons include:

  • Work conflicts 

  • Unpreparedness for college coursework 

  • Missed deadlines 

Translation: you shouldn’t expect a “get out of jail free” card because you forgot about your midterm paper.

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

Financial aid suspension appeals process

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. Your letter will also explain the steps you’ll need to take if you want to appeal the decision.

If an appeal isn’t submitted, students who haven’t met 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. You should contact the financial aid office for details or check for instructions in the SAP notice to find out more.

2. You’ll likely need to file an SAP appeal form online—but again, double-check your school’s individual processes on this.

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 your school approves the SAP appeal, you’ll typically enter into a financial aid probation period. 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 your college or university denies the appeal, you’ll remain on a financial aid suspension. Most schools don’t allow for a second appeal unless your financial circumstances or personal circumstances have changed again.

How to write an SAP appeal letter

Now that we’ve covered the SAP process, let’s break down all the stuff you have to include in your SAP appeal letter.

Writing a good SAP appeal letter is very important. Here’s how you should go about the SAP appeal process:

1. Research school requirements

Each school will have slightly different requirements for SAP appeals. Check with your school’s 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)

Each school will have slightly different requirements for submitting a financial aid appeal letter. Check with the financial aid department or research online. You may also find some information in your financial aid suspension notice.

3. Consider using an SAP appeal letter template

You should be able to find templates of successful SAP appeal letters online. This can be a good option if you’re unsure how to structure or word your letter.

4. Submit any necessary forms

Some schools may ask you for a specific appeal form in addition to an SAP appeal letter. Again, you should check with your school’s financial aid department for details.

5. Submit any necessary academic plans

Many schools require a detailed academic plan showing 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 up front, and be honest. Explain what happened and what has changed that’ll allow you to return to satisfactory academic performance.

Your letter should be brief and 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, you’ve got to make sure that you include the following:

What to include in SAP appeal letter
  • 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. You should also include your student identification number, telephone number, and email address so that your school’s financial aid office can contact you regarding the letter.

  • What happened: Explain the special circumstances (or “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’s 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 a separate document that proves your financial situation or personal situation has changed. 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 process is a specific form that must be filled out. At other schools, the SAP appeal letter merely explains why the appeal is being made. Be sure to check with your school to ensure you meet all the requirements for their appeals process.

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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 eligibility for aid as a result of my failing to meet SAP standards during the 2021–2022 academic year.

On November 9, 2021, 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’m fully healed and ready to return to my studies. I intend to register for and complete the courses that I failed last semester. I’m confident that I’ll be able to complete all my classes and earn high marks this coming semester. 

I have attached the following documents:

  1. A copy of the hospital bill showing the dates of my stay

  2. A confirmation from my insurance company acknowledging the accident date and severity

  3. A note from my doctor explaining my physical therapy schedule

  4. A detailed academic plan for getting back on track

Sincerely,

Alejandra De León

Conclusion 

Having your financial aid cut off can be a terrifying experience—but it’s important to remember that the result isn't necessarily set in stone.

That means it's well worth submitting an SAP appeal letter if you have a legitimate reason for falling behind on your academic progress. 

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.

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