Satisfactory Academic Progress

Graduate Division

Purpose and Accountability

This policy defines Satisfactory Academic progress (SAP) for PhD candidates (excluding Nursing PhD students) and specified Master's programs. The policy presents the standards adopted by the UCSF Graduate Studies Office and the Student Financial Services Office. The Graduate Dean or her designees(s) is responsible for implementing this policy. It will be reviewed regularly in collaboration with the Student Financial Services Office for federal compliance and revised when necessary.


Satisfactory Academic Progress is determined by measuring a student’s performance in three areas:

  • Completion rate: percent of courses or credits attempted that must be completed each term
  • Grade Point Average (GPA): a calculation of the average of a student’s grades in a course, term or all terms (cumulative GPA); and
  • Maximum time frame: number of terms or years allowed to complete the program of study


Sound academic principles require that students maintain satisfactory academic progress. In addition, federal regulations require the Graduate Division to establish satisfactory academic progress standards for students who receive federal financial aid. The following standards apply to all matriculating students, whether they are financial aid recipients or not.


The academic requirements for graduate degrees include the satisfactory completion of the curriculum designated by the faculty. At the conclusion of each academic year, the graduate advisor reviews the qualitative performance of each student. Students must maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.00 and are subject to dismissal by the Dean of Graduate Studies for failure to do so. The Graduate Division will notify the Student Financial Services Office of student(s) who does not receive satisfactory report from the degree committee. A student shall be placed on financial aid probation if his/her cumulative GPA falls below 3.00. Students on financial aid probation may receive financial aid for one quarter. The student shall be removed from financial aid probation if the cumulative GPA reaches 3.00 at the end of the probationary quarter. If the cumulative GPA does not reach 3.00 at the end of the probationary quarter, the student will be suspended from financial aid eligibility until the cumulative GPA returns to 3.00.

Coursework (PhD only)

Graduate degrees are awarded for scholarship and contributions to the discipline, and are not quantified in terms of courses completed and units earned. Students take varying numbers of units, depending on their year in the program. During the first two to four years of graduate study, a student normally takes from eight to 12 units per quarter. To be considered full-time for financial aid purposes, students who have not advanced to candidacy must complete at least eight units per quarter (24 per year). Students who attend at least half-time but take fewer than eight units per quarter are eligible for Federal Direct Loans but not for other types of need-based financial aid. Once the student has advanced to candidacy, fewer than eight units per quarter are customary, depending on the kind of activity the student is engaged in. Students who have advanced to candidacy are considered to be enrolled full-time regardless of the number of units they are taking. Occasionally, students receive an incomplete grade for one or more classes. Any incomplete grades must be removed within one calendar year or, if the course is not given yearly, by the end of the quarter in which the course is next offered.

Each student must have an evaluation conference with his/her graduate advisor at least once a year. To maintain satisfactory academic progress, students must receive an evaluation of "satisfactory" or "more than satisfactory." Those who receive the evaluation "improvement is needed" will be placed on financial aid probation. Such students may receive financial aid for one quarter. They may not receive additional funding until another academic review report has been completed with a rating of satisfactory or above. When students apply for financial aid, the Student Financial Services will obtain the report results from the student's Graduate Program.

Students will be viewed as making satisfactory academic progress if they meet the following conditions:

  • Maintain a grade point average of 3.00 or above.
  • Receive an annual evaluation of satisfactory or better.
  • Complete at least eight units per quarter (24 per year) until they have advanced to candidacy.
  • Pass the qualifying exam and advance to candidacy by the end of the fourth year of study.

Students who do not maintain a 3.00 grade point average or receive a satisfactory rating on their annual evaluation will be placed on financial aid probation as already indicated. Those who do not complete the necessary units or advance to candidacy as indicated above must be reviewed by the Director of Student Financial Services and the Graduate Dean or his designee to determine whether or not they are making satisfactory academic progress and should continue to be eligible for financial aid.


The normative time to degree for completion of the PhD or Master's degree varies by program, as described below. A student may receive financial aid to cover the normative time period for their program, excluding time spent on approved leaves of absence. This limit includes any quarter in which the student was enrolled beyond the census date, whether or not the student received financial aid. Students may require a longer than normal period of enrollment for a variety of legitimate reasons. Students may receive financial aid for more than the normative period of enrollment if the Dean of the Graduate Division (or designee(s) determine that additional support is warranted. Normally, the student will not receive financial aid to cover more than one additional year of enrollment. In no case may a student receive support for more than 150% of the normative time to degree. If a student temporarily withdraws from school, the quarter in which (or after which) the student withdraws will be considered a quarter of enrollment if the student attended beyond the census date. If the student was not enrolled long enough to keep his or her financial aid, it will not be considered a quarter of enrollment.

PhD Program Normative Time To Degree
Bioengineering 5
Biomedical and Medical Informatics 6
Biomedical Sciences 6
Biophysics 6
Chemistry and Chemical Biology 6
Neuroscience 6
Oral and Craniofacial Sciences 6
Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics 6
Medical Anthropology 6
Sociology 6
Master's Program Normative Time To Degree
Healthcare Administration & Interprofessional Leadership (MS-HAIL) 4
Master's in Translational Medicine (summer is at the end of the year) 4
Master's in Global Health (summer is at the end of the year) 4

When students pursue a professional degree concurrently with the doctoral degree, the maximum time period will be the sum of enrollment periods established by the school for the professional degree and the Graduate Division for the PhD degree.

A student may be granted a leave of absence for a variety of reasons. The time period of an approved leave shall be excluded from the maximum time frame in which an individual student will be expected to complete the program.

The Graduate Division is ready to respond to mitigating circumstances which may arise in individual situations. Students may appeal loss of eligibility for financial aid to the Director of Student Financial Services. The Director, in consultation with the Dean of Graduate Studies or her designee, will determine whether or not the mitigating circumstances offer justification for altering customary standards of academic progress.

The Director of Student Financial Services and the Graduate Division will have joint responsibility for implementation and enforcement of the satisfactory academic progress policy.