Academic Progression at Harvard University

Consequences for Failure to Progress

Students attending Harvard University know the rewards ahead of them after they graduate. Harvard is at the top of world-renowned universities, with preeminent faculty, abundant resources, and a fabulous graduate network. Harvard graduates have open doors to jobs, careers, and positions that graduates of many other schools could only envy. But Harvard, like other colleges and universities, maintains satisfactory academic progress (SAP) standards that students must meet if they intend to continue receiving federal student loans or aid. More than half of Harvard students receive financial aid. Failure to progress in meeting SAP requirements at Harvard can lead to suspension of federal student aid. Many Harvard students come from families with incomes below the median household income. For the many Harvard students who can't get private student loans or family financial assistance, suspension of federal aid could mean inability to enroll for further courses. The collateral consequences of not being able to enroll can be enormous, including loss of the degree, job loss, lost careers, accelerated student loans, loss of university housing and medical care, and the inability to obtain professional licenses and certifications. Students generally still have to pay the loans back, even if they can't earn the degree. Don't ignore those risks if you have received Harvard's SAP warning. Instead, retain national Education Attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you navigate your SAP issue and preserve your valuable Harvard education.

Harvard Academic Progression Requirements

The specific satisfactory academic progress (SAP) requirements you must meet to retain your Harvard University enrollment depend on your Harvard school and program. SAP requirements generally include a qualitative standard involving minimum grades, a quantitative standard involving the percentage of credits completed, and a maximum time frame for graduation. For example, Harvard University's satisfactory academic progress policy for undergraduate students in Harvard College prohibits students from having more than one failing grade in any one term while requiring students to progress through at least four eight-credit courses per year and graduate within 150% of the published program length. For another example, Harvard School of Public Health requires a minimum cumulative 2.70 grade-point average and completion of 67% of attempted credits. Harvard Medical School has no grade-point requirement but instead requires students to pass all courses and graduate within four years. Harvard Extension School requires a 2.00 grade-point average for undergraduates and a 3.00 grade-point average for graduate students while requiring completion of 67% of credits attempted. Academic progression requirements can be difficult to compute, and the policies are open to interpretation in any one case.

Harvard's SAP Adjudication Process

Because satisfactory academic progress can, in any one case, be open to interpretation, Harvard University, like other schools, maintains procedures for applying the school's SAP standards to students who receive federal financial aid. SAP procedures can vary among programs and schools. SAP procedures for undergraduates in Harvard College begin with Financial Aid Office and Registrar review after the end of each term of the academic progress of every enrolled student receiving financial aid. Students receiving financial aid, whose grades and course completions do not meet Harvard's SAP standards for undergraduates, should get the Financial Aid Office's notice. That notice triggers your right to promptly appeal the school's failure-to-progress determination to the university's Administrative Board. The Administrative Board may determine that you have met the school's SAP standard or, if you have not met those standards, that the school should give you an additional term to pull your academic performance up to those standards, to receive financial aid. The university may require you to withdraw for two terms before readmission on academic probation to attempt to regain satisfactory academic standing for financial aid. The university, though, may refuse your readmission, which is discretionary to the university. SAP issues can, in other words, result in effective dismissal from Harvard University. If you receive an SAP notice, treat it most seriously.

Decision Authorities

Under the above Harvard College undergraduate SAP policy, whether a student needing financial aid gets to remain at Harvard University is initially a decision of the university's Financial Aid Office and Registrar calculating academic progress. A student needing federal financial aid who does not appeal their decision to the university's Administrative Board will not be able to enroll and will effectively suffer dismissal. But the notice should alert the student of appeal rights to the Administrative Board. The Board's members will have had substantial experience evaluating SAP appeals. The Board must hold students to its appeal standards, for the university to be able to document that it properly applies its SAP standards. Other schools and programs may have other SAP authorities. Harvard's School of Public Health, for example, has its Care Team, Office of Financial Aid, and Associate Dean of Student Services decide SAP appeals.

Appeals Process

Federal SAP regulations at 34 CFR § 668.34 permit Harvard University, like other colleges and universities, to grant a student relief from its SAP standards if the student can demonstrate extenuating circumstances. The federal regulation lists “death of a relative, an injury or illness of the student, or other special circumstances” as examples, but other circumstances may also qualify. Your Harvard SAP appeal, though, will need to include documentation of your special circumstances, how you have recovered, and your detailed plan to bring your academics back up to the school's SAP standards. Don't leave an SAP appeal to chance. Don't mistakenly think that a simple letter to the appeals official will do. Effective appeal advocacy, documentation, and corrective action plans all require special expertise.

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