Graduate and Professional Education

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) Policy

Purpose of Satisfactory Academic Progress Regulations

To be eligible for federal financial aid, graduate and professional students are required by the U.S. Department of Education (34 CFR 668.34) to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress toward their degree objectives. USC has established this SAP policy to ensure student success and accountability and to promote timely advancement toward degree objectives.

The following guidelines provide academic progress criteria for all graduate and professional students receiving certain financial aid at USC. Although the requirements for students receiving such financial aid are somewhat more restrictive than for the general student population, they are based on reasonable expectations of academic progress toward a degree. Accordingly, these guidelines should not be a hindrance to any student in good academic standing.

The Financial Aid Office may change these policies at any time to ensure continued compliance with changes in federal and state regulations regarding student financial aid. As a result, students must refer to the current catalogue regulations. Unlike degree requirements, changes in regulations, policies and procedures are immediate and supersede those in any prior catalogue.

Table 1
Programs Subject to Financial Aid SAP Policy

Federal Programs
Federal Work–Study Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students
Federal Perkins Loans Loans for Disadvantaged Students
Federal Direct Loans (Stafford and Graduate PLUS) Health Professions Student Loans
Federal TEACH Grants Primary Care Loans

Table 2
Programs Not Subject to Financial Aid SAP Policy

USC and Outside Programs*
USC Merit Scholarships USC Alumni Scholarships
USC Topping Scholarships USC Departmental Awards
USC Assistantships USC Employee Tuition Assistance Benefits
Sponsored Agency Awards (Including Department of Defense and Veterans Awards) Outside Agency Scholarships

*Recipients of these awards should contact the awarding agencies/departments for rules governing award retention.

Definition of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

At USC, to be eligible for financial aid as identified above, you must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress as defined by all of the following three criteria:

(1) Meeting a minimum cumulative grade point average requirement (GPA)

(2) Earning a minimum number of units for credit per semester (Pace of Progression)

(3) Completing the degree objective within a maximum number of semesters enrolled and a maximum number of units attempted (Maximum Time-Frame Allowance)

Students who fail to meet one or more of the above criteria will be considered to be SAP ineligible for financial aid without an approved, written SAP Appeal. The following will explain each of the three SAP evaluation criteria; SAP Ineligibility and Probation Periods; and the SAP Appeals process in detail.

Grade Point Average Requirement

To maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress, graduate and professional students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0. In some cases, the University Committee on Curriculum has approved different GPA requirements for professional schools as detailed in Table 3:

Table 3
Exceptional Grade Point Average Requirements for Graduate/Professional Programs

Degree Program Program of Study Code GPA Requirement
Doctor of Dental Surgery — DDS 414 2.0
Doctor of Dental Surgery — Advanced Standing Program for International Dentists — DDS 428 2.0
Doctor of Physical Therapy — DPT 979 2.75
Juris Doctor — JD 379 2.7
Master of Laws — LLM 394 2.7
Graduate Certificate in Financial Analysis and Valuation — GCRT 1340 3.6
Students with No Graduate GPA

Students enrolled in progressive degree programs whose undergraduate degrees have not yet been conferred must maintain a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.0.

Students who have no GPA because all their course work has been taken as Credit (C)/No Credit (NC) or Pass (P)/No Pass (NP) are considered to have a sufficient GPA as long as they have no grades of NC or NP. A grade of In Progress (IP) is also considered a passing grade.

Refer to Tables 4 and 5 to understand how specific grades and course types affect students’ cumulative grade point averages:

Table 4
Impact of Grades on Graduate Cumulative SAP GPA

Grade Earned Counted in Grade Point Average
A, B, C, D, F (+/-) Yes
CR — Credit, P — Pass, IP — In Progress No
NC — No Credit, NP — No Pass No
IN — Incomplete No
IX — Expired Incomplete Yes
W — Withdrawal No
UW — Unofficial Withdrawal Yes
V — Audit No
MG — Missing Grade No

Table 5
Impact of Course Type on Graduate Cumulative GPA

Course Type Counted in Grade Point Average
Preparatory course work (including all undergraduate course work regardless of course level) Yes
Repeated course work (previous passing grade) No
Repeated course work (previous failing grade) Yes (both grades counted)
Transfer course work (pre- and post-matriculation) No

For more information about grading policy, visit the USC Department of Grades on the Registrar’s Website at usc.edu/grades.

Pace of Progression Requirement

To maintain satisfactory progress, graduate students must complete a minimum number of units each semester (Pace) to ensure completion of the degree within the maximum time frame. Pace of Progression is calculated by dividing the cumulative number of credits the student has successfully completed by the cumulative number of credits the student has attempted.

To be eligible to receive the federal, state and institutional financial assistance detailed in this section, a student is required to successfully complete a minimum of 67 percent of all attempted credits.

Pace of Progression ≥ 67% = SAP eligible for Pace

Review Tables 6 and 7 to understand how grades and course types will affect the Pace of Progression calculation:

Table 6
Impact of Grades on Pace of Progression and Maximum Time-Frame Allowance

Grade Earned Pace of Progression Counted Toward Maximum Time Frame
Units Completed Units Attempted
A, B, C, D (+/-) Yes Yes Yes
CR, P, IP Yes Yes Yes
F, UW, IX No Yes Yes
NC, NP, W, MG, IN No Yes Yes
V No No No

Table 7
Impact of Course Type on Pace of Progression and Maximum Time-Frame Allowance

Course Type Pace of Progression Counted Toward Maximum Time Frame
Units Completed Units Attempted
Graduate-level course work Yes Yes Yes
Preparatory course work (including all undergraduate course work regardless of course level) Yes Yes Yes
Repeated course work (previous passing grade) Yes Yes Yes
Repeated course work (previous failing grade) Yes Yes Yes
Transfer course work (pre- and post-matriculation) Yes Yes Yes

Maximum Time-Frame Allowance

To demonstrate Satisfactory Academic Progress, students must complete their degree objective within a specified amount of time. The time frame will depend on the student’s enrollment status and educational objective.

Maximum Units and Semesters

Each program of study has a maximum time frame established in both units and semesters attempted, based on the requirements of the degree program. Students are eligible to receive financial aid until the maximum units or maximum full-time semesters are reached, whichever comes first. All enrolled periods are considered regardless of whether the student has received financial aid.

Refer to Tables 6 and 7 to understand how different grades and course types will be counted against your Maximum Time-Frame Allowance.

Course work transferred to the university in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements will be subtracted from the maximum unit and semester allowance.

Students in authorized dual-degree programs of generally longer duration than single-degree programs will be granted an increase in the unit and semester allowances commensurate with the additional program requirements.

Solely for the purpose of evaluating the SAP Maximum Time-Frame Allowance, the Financial Aid Office establishes the following guidelines on SAP semesters.

SAP Semesters for Doctoral Students

Each semester in which a doctoral student attempts 3 to 5 units is counted as a half (0.5) SAP semester. Each semester in which a doctoral student attempts 6 or more units is counted as a full (1.0) SAP semester. Semesters in which a doctoral student attempts fewer than 3 units that are not full-time exception courses are not counted as SAP semesters (see Table 8).

SAP Semesters for Master’s and Graduate Certificate Students

Each semester in which a master’s or graduate certificate student attempts 4 to 7.5 units is counted as a half (0.5) SAP semester. Each semester in which a master’s or a graduate certificate student attempts 8 or more units is counted as a full (1.0) SAP semester. Semesters in which a master’s or a graduate certificate student attempts fewer than 4 units that are not full-time exception courses are not counted as SAP semesters (see Table 8).

Full-Time Exception Courses

Other than the number of units attempted, there are additional circumstances that confer full-time enrollment status. These include enrollment in 594 Master’s Thesis, 794 Doctoral Dissertation, GRSC 800 Studies for the Qualifying Examination and GRSC 810 Studies for the Master’s Examination, as well as other courses and programs as determined by the Dean of Academic Records and Registrar. Any semester in which a student attempts a full-time exception course will be counted as 1.0 SAP semester, regardless of the number of units enrolled or concurrent course work.

Maximum Unit Allowance

Students pursuing graduate and professional degrees can apply for financial aid for up to the maximum number of units of course work required for the particular program of study, plus the equivalent units for one full-time semester course load (see Table 8).

Table 8
Full-Time Course Load for Determining Maximum SAP Units and Semesters

Program Full-Time Course Load
Doctoral programs 6 units or exception course
Master’s programs and graduate certificates 8 units or exception course

For certain programs, the full-time course load may vary from 14 to 22 units, based on the average enrollment levels for the program. These programs generally enroll students at the flat rate for tuition.

Maximum Semester Allowance

To determine the maximum number of full-time semesters of aid available for a graduate or professional program of study, divide the number of units required for the particular program by the full-time semester course load for that program according to Table 8.

After rounding up to the nearest whole number, add one additional full-time semester to determine the maximum allowed for the program.

Review the examples to understand how the maximum SAP units and semesters are calculated.

Example 1
Maximum SAP Semester and Unit Calculation for a Doctoral Degree

A doctoral program that requires 60 units for graduation:
Maximum SAP Semesters = 60 units/6 units+ 1 full-time semester
Maximum SAP Semesters = 10 + 1 full-time semester
Maximum SAP Semesters = 11 full-time semesters

Example 2
Maximum SAP Semester and Unit Calculation for a Master’s Degree or Graduate Certificate

A master’s or graduate certificate program that requires 28 units for graduation:
Maximum SAP Semesters = 28 units/8 units + 1 full-time semester
Maximum SAP Semesters = 4* + 1 full-time semester
Maximum SAP Semesters = 5 full-time semesters

*rounded up from 3.5

When Satisfactory Academic Progress is Monitored

The Financial Aid Office will monitor Satisfactory Academic Progress for graduate and professional financial aid applicants annually. The evaluation will occur after the end of the summer semester when the summer has been considered part of the prior academic year for financial aid purposes. Students who do not enroll in summer courses or whose summer is considered part of the upcoming academic year will be monitored at the end of the spring semester.

Potential Delay of Disbursements Due to Monitoring of Satisfactory Academic Progress

Financial aid may not be disbursed to a student’s account until SAP has been evaluated. The Financial Aid Office cannot complete the SAP evaluation until prior semester grades have been officially posted by the Office of Academic Records and Registrar. Therefore, an otherwise eligible student may experience a delayed financial aid disbursement if grades are not made official before the beginning of the subsequent semester. No exceptions can be made to this process.

Notification of Satisfactory Academic Progress Status

Students who have met Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements will not receive a SAP notification. The Financial Aid Office will notify any student who does not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements via email at the student’s USC email address. Students who are notified that they are SAP ineligible for financial aid should consult their academic advisers.

Failure to Maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress

There are no Financial Aid SAP Warning Periods for graduate/professional students.

Students who fail to meet GPA or Pace of Progression standards will be ineligible for financial aid without an approved, written SAP Appeal.

Students who exceed the maximum unit or semester allowance are ineligible for financial aid without an approved, written SAP Appeal.

Students who are academically disqualified from the university are ineligible for further financial aid without readmission to the university and an approved, written SAP Appeal. Students on financial aid SAP Probation who fail to meet the terms of their SAP Contracts are ineligible for financial aid without a second approved, written second SAP Appeal.

Regaining Financial Aid Eligibility

Regaining Financial Aid Eligibility with a Grade Change

Students who have lost financial aid eligibility as a result of insufficient GPA or Pace of Progression can be reinstated by a grade change if the grade change allows them to complete sufficient units and/or improve their GPA to meet stated requirements. The student must notify the Financial Aid Office in writing that the grade has been changed and requirements have been met.

Regaining Financial Aid Eligibility with a SAP Appeal for Maximum Time Frame

Students who need additional time to complete their degrees must meet with their academic adviser to complete a SAP Appeal form. Students must also update their expected graduation date with the Degree Progress Office. The Financial Aid Office may increase the maximum time frame for students who have changed programs, are adding a program or have experienced a one-time extenuating circumstance such as illness or injury that has since been resolved.

Regaining Financial Aid Eligibility with a SAP Appeal for GPA or Pace of Progression

Students may appeal the determination that they are not meeting Satisfactory Academic Progress GPA and Pace of Progression requirements. The following can be considered: extended illness, one-time extenuating circumstances that have since been resolved, and enrollment limitations due to academic advisement.

SAP Appeal Form and Letter

The student and adviser must submit a graduate and professional Satisfactory Academic Progress appeal form with complete supporting documentation to the Financial Aid Office. The SAP Appeal form must contain the specific academic plan for the student that the adviser has approved. For the appeal to be approved, the academic plan must lead to graduation within 150 percent of the published degree time. The student must also provide a written appeal letter that includes the following information/explanation: (a) What caused the work at USC to fall below acceptable standards? Students should think carefully and provide a specific explanation. (b) How have those conflicts been resolved? (c) How will the student maintain good academic standards and progress towards the degree if the appeal is granted?

When to Submit a SAP Appeal

Students may wait until they have been notified by the Financial Aid Office that they are ineligible for financial aid because of a SAP deficiency. SAP Appeals for Maximum Time-Frame Allowance may be submitted at any time, but students should first ensure that the Degree Progress Office has updated their expected graduation term.

SAP Appeals must be submitted before the end of the semester for which the aid is sought. Financial aid cannot be reinstated retroactively for a past semester.

Limitations on Approvals for SAP Appeals

The Financial Aid Office will never increase the Maximum Time-Frame Allowance past 150 percent of the published degree requirements for one graduate/professional degree.

Academic Disqualification and Activity Restrictions that Prevent Registration

Students who are academically disqualified or otherwise prevented from registering for future semesters may submit SAP Appeals. However, those appeals will not be evaluated until the activity restrictions have been resolved.

Notification of SAP Appeal Decisions

SAP Appeals will be evaluated and the Financial Aid Office will notify the student of the decision via email at the student’s USC email address.

Financial Aid SAP Probation

Appeals for insufficient Pace of Progression and GPA are approved through the use of a semester-by-semester SAP Contract. Students placed on a SAP Contract are eligible for financial aid on a probationary basis, strictly according to the terms of the contract. While on SAP Probation, the Financial Aid Office will review a student’s academic progress each semester to ensure they have met the specific terms of their contract.

The SAP Contract

The contract is an agreement between the student, the academic adviser and the Financial Aid Office where the student commits to following a specific academic plan that leads to graduation. Reinstated eligibility through a contract may alter the type and amount of the financial aid for which a student is eligible. Terms of the SAP Contract may be stricter than the standard SAP regulations cited in this section.

Acceptance of the approved SAP Contract supersedes all other SAP regulations. Any deviation by the student from the terms of the contract will result in the forfeiture of future financial aid eligibility.

Submitting SAP Appeals After Failing SAP Probation

Students on SAP Probation as a result of an approved appeal who fail to meet the terms of their accepted SAP Contract are ineligible for future financial aid. These students may submit a subsequent SAP Appeal. However, these appeals are granted on an exception basis. Students will be required to document specifically the exceptional circumstances that caused them to fail their SAP Contract and how those problems have been resolved.

Financial Aid Application and SAP Appeal Deadlines

Any student who is appealing his or her Satisfactory Academic Progress status must meet all financial aid application deadlines and other eligibility requirements. A SAP Appeal must be submitted before the end of the semester for which the aid is sought. Financial aid cannot be reinstated retroactively for a past semester. As with any type of financial aid appeal, Satisfactory Academic Progress appeals are funded on a funds-available basis.