Satisfactory Academic Progress

Financial Aid Eligibility and Satisfactory Academic Progress

Federal regulations require that our office monitor student’s academic progress in order to maintain eligibility of federal student aid funds. We have outlined the policy below for your reference. We hope this information will help shed some light on how a student’s progress is evaluated. Before we explain the federal policy, it is important that we first explain Northwestern’s institutional aid policy since it differs greatly from the federal policy. 

Institutional Aid Eligibility

For entering freshmen, financial aid is renewable for up to 12 quarters of enrollment. If a student has been enrolled and has not applied for and/or has not received financial aid, the quarters of enrollment will still count toward the maximum eligibility. For transfer students, the maximum number of quarters of assistance depends on the number of quarters of transfer credit accepted, as determined by the Office of the Registrar (i.e., a student who transfers with 3 quarters of acceptable credit is eligible for 9 quarters of assistance). Students must not exceed 12 quarters of financial aid, unless they are admitted into BA/BMus or BS in Engineering/BMus which require more than 12 quarters for completion.

You will see below that that federal eligibility can last longer, but it is important to consider that your institutional aid eligibility is limited to only 12 terms. As you read through the federal Financial Aid Satisfactory Academic Progress policy below, please keep this information in mind.

Federal Aid Eligibility

Federal regulations state that a student must maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) to be eligible for Title IV aid (such as Federal Stafford Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, Federal Work Study, Federal Pell Grant, Federal SEOG and Federal PLUS Loans). New regulations governing Satisfactory Academic Progress policies and procedures are in effect beginning with the 2011-12 academic year. The Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements outlined here supersede the requirements outlined the Undergraduate Catalog. 

Federal Financial Aid Satisfactory Academic Progress standards may differ from other academic or disciplinary measures.

Federal Financial Aid Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy

Federal Regulations require that a student meet certain quantitative and qualitative measures and complete their programs within a maximum timeframe in order to maintain financial aid eligibility. The measures below must be adhered to as outlined below regardless of any changes to majors, degrees, or pursuit of a second degree.

Quantitative Standard

Students are required to meet certain quantitative measures in order to meet satisfactory academic progress requirements.   

In order to meet the quantitative measure, a student must complete 67% of their attempted units each academic year. For example, a student who has attempted a cumulative total of 12 units must complete at least 8 units to meet the requirement (12  x .67 = 8).

Qualitative Standard

Students are also required to meet certain qualitative measures of satisfactory academic progress. Federal regulations require that students attain a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or “C” by the end of the second academic year and that is the measure that will be used by the Financial Aid Office to determine Financial Aid SAP status. Each undergraduate school at Northwestern has outlined the minimum grade point average that a student must attain to successfully complete their degree requirements. However, it is not specifically stipulated that a student have a 2.0 GPA by the end of their second academic year. For information regarding the academic requirements, please refer to the Undergraduate Catalog. 

Maximum Time Frame

Federal regulations also require that the student complete their program within a maximum time frame of 150% of the published length of a program. A review of total attempted credit hours is conducted at the end of each academic year.  Students may not exceed a maximum time frame measured by attempted credit hours equal to 150% of the length of their degree program. Once a student has reached his/her total maximum credit hours, they are no longer eligible to receive federal financial assistance. All transfer credits are included in the total amount attempted. Maximum attempted credit hours appear as follows:

Program Published Length of program x 150% = Maximum Time Frame

Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
Published Length of program: 45 units
Maximum: 67.5 units

School of Communication
Published Length of program: 45 units
Maximum: 67.5 units

School of Education and Social Policy
Published Length of program: 45 units
Maximum: 67.5 units

McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science
Published Length of program: 48 units
Maximum: 72 units

Medill School of Journalism
Published Length of program: 45 units
Maximum: 67.5 units

Bienen School of Music - Bachelor of Music
Published Length of program: 54 units
Maximum: 81 units

Bienen School of Music - Bachelor of Arts in Music
Published Length of program: 45 units
Maximum: 67.5 units

Please Note: Although the federal requirements allow for longer enrollment, undergraduate students are limited to 12 quarters of institutional assistance (15 quarters for a recognized 5-year program). For example, a student in WCAS needs 45 units to complete their degree. The student attends fall, winter, and spring term every year and successfully attempts and completes 9 units at the end of each academic year and maintains a GPA higher than 2.0 throughout her enrollment. This would meet the federal Satisfactory Academic Progress standards and the student would maintain federal eligibility if she maintained such a pace. However, at the end of 12 quarters the student will have earned only 36 academic units and therefore would be ineligible for institutional assistance beyond their 12th term of enrollment fourth year. 

Courses and Grades Used in Determining Satisfactory Academic Progress

All coursework attempted, including repeated and withdrawn coursework recorded on the academic record at the time of the progress check is considered when determining if the student meets satisfactory academic progress standards. Transfer credits on the student academic record are considered for purposes of satisfactory academic progress review. Courses that are retaken to improve a grade are counted in attempted hours but only one passing grade is counted towards the credit completion pace rate. Non-credit remedial courses are not offered at the University and are therefore not addressed in this policy.

Grades of "A," "B," "C," "D," "S," or "P" are considered successful completion of a course.  Grades of "F," "X," "Y," "N," "K," “U,” “W," "NR," are not considered successful completion.  Audit courses are not counted in the total hours attempted or as successful completion of a course.

Satisfactory Academic Progress Review Process

As outlined above, there are two requirements to successfully meet the SATISFACTORY ACADEMIC standards, a quantitative measure and a qualitative measure. Failure to meet either one or both of these standards will result in cancellation of your financial aid for subsequent terms. We have outlined below how and when we monitor students status.

Quantitative: At the end of each full academic year (completion of 3-4 quarters of enrollment), the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid reviews student record data to ensure that students have met the quantitative Satisfactory Academic Progress minimum requirements. Incomplete and repeated units are counted as attempted, but not completed. All coursework with a “W” (withdrawal) distinction are also counted as attempted, but not completed, regardless of the conditions of the withdrawal.

Qualitative: Beginning at the completion of a student’s second full academic year, the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid reviews student record data to determine qualitative Satisfactory Academic Progress of a 2.0 minimum grade point average.  A qualitative review will then be conducted at the end of each full academic year onward. 

All terms of enrollment are reviewed regardless of whether aid was received for those terms.  All transferred credits are included in the Satisfactory Academic Progress Review. Students who attend summer term following a regular academic year will have their progress for the year evaluated again at the end of the summer term for a comprehensive review of that year's progress.

Failure to Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress

Failure to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress as described above will result in financial aid ineligibility. Students will be notified of their failure to meet SAP via university email. 

Appeal Process

At the time of notification, the student will have the opportunity to complete a Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeal. The Appeal must be completed and returned to the Financial Aid Office within two weeks of notification of SAP failure.  If approved, the student will receive an additional probationary period of financial assistance where they will be able to reestablish satisfactory academic progress. 

The information required for an appeal depends upon a student’s specific academic record. While students will be notified of which materials will be required for their appeal, we have outlined the three potential appeal categories and the appeal requirements below. 

  1. If a student’s SAP status can be rectified with one successful probationary term, the student will only be required to submit the standard Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeal form.
  2. If a student’s SAP status will require more than one term to fulfill SAP standards, students will be required to submit the Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeal form and an academic plan as approved by their advisor.
  3. When a student is academically dismissed from the University according to the academic policies of the particular school and program and is subsequently readmitted, he/she will need to complete the Satisfactory Academic Progress Appeal, along with a signed statement from their advisor and an academic plan for their degree completion. 

Upon receipt of all completed appeal materials, students will then be considered for a probationary period of financial aid in order to reestablish satisfactory academic progress. 

Please note that these are the minimum materials required for an appeal. Students are encouraged to submit any substantiating documentation that may reinforce the basis for the appeal.  The Office of Financial Aid also reserves the right to consult with the student’s academic advisor while evaluating an appeal.

Denied Appeals/Students Who Choose Not to Appeal

Note: If a student does not complete the appeal process or if an appeal is denied, he/she will remain ineligible for financial assistance until Satisfactory Academic Progress is reestablished. Financial aid will not be provided retroactively.  Students who fail to meet the qualitative standard will need to attain a minimum 2.0 grade point average for the probationary term. Students who have failed to meet the quantitative standard will need to successfully complete at least 67% of their units attempted during the probationary term. Students who fail to meet these minimum standards for their probationary period will be required to submit a subsequent appeal to request an additional probationary term, as well as provide an academic plan, which has been approved by their advisor.   

Students who successfully meet these minimum standards without assistance must notify the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid if they wish to be considered for financial aid. The Financial Aid Committee will review student records and appropriate materials prior to reinstatement for subsequent terms. For students who do not to appeal, financial aid is not provided retroactively for any ineligible terms if they meet SAP without aid.

NOTE: Students are ineligible for financial assistance from University funds beyond the 12th quarter (or 15th quarter in recognized 5-year programs) of enrollment, even if they are maintaining satisfactory academic progress. However, the Financial Aid Committee may decide to continue some institutional aid when unusual circumstances exist and students demonstrate academic promise.

The University reserves the right to make adjustments to these policies.

More information on Northwestern's policy regarding Satisfactory Academic Progress can be found in the Undergraduate Catalog on the Office of the Registrar site.