2.19 Satisfactory Academic Progress

The academic requirements for the MD degree include the satisfactory completion of the MD curriculum at Harvard Medical School (HMS). The progress of each student working toward the MD degree is monitored carefully, and the determination of satisfactory academic progress is reviewed annually. At the end of each academic year, students must have academic standing consistent with HMS’s curricular and graduation requirements.

Federal law and regulations require that all students receiving financial assistance maintain satisfactory academic progress. Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is the successful completion of degree requirements according to established increments that lead to awarding the degree within published time limits. The following policy delineates the standards for Satisfactory Academic Progress at HMS, which apply to all matriculated students, whether or not they are recipients of financial aid.

Qualitative Measures of SAP

Each student at HMS is required to complete successfully all of HMS’s required courses, clerkships, examinations and a scholarly project in order to graduate with the MD degree. HMS does not measure academic progress by means of a cumulative grade point average but rather with grades of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory in the preclerkship phase, Principal Clinical Experience (PCE) and core clerkships and all non-clinical electives (including the post-PCE Advanced Integrated Science Courses (AISC) and Essentials II).  Required subinternships and clinical electives in the post-PCE  are graded Honors with Distinction, Honors, Pass, or Unsatisfactory  (See Section 2.03, Grading and Examinations). Specifically, all courses in the preclerkship phase must be completed with a grade of Satisfactory for progression to the PCE phase, and all clerkships in the PCE phase must be completed with a grade of Pass for progression to the post-PCE phase. All students are required to complete the PCE with a minimum overall PCE grade of Satisfactory.  In the post-PCE Phase, students must complete all courses, clerkships or approved activities with a minimum grade of Pass or Satisfactory to meet graduation requirements.  

Please Note: The completion of all courses, clerkships or approved activities with a minimum grade of Satisfactory/Pass is not sufficient in and of itself to meet graduation requirements.

Maximum Time Frame

The normal time frame for completion of required course work for the MD degree is four academic years. Due to academic or personal difficulties or scholarly enrichment activities, a student may require additional time (see Sections 1.05 and 1.06). In such situations, an academic plan may be established for the student that departs from the norm and that may require the repetition of all or a part of a year of study (i.e., subsequent to incomplete or unsatisfactory course work or an approved leave). To be making satisfactory academic progress, students ordinarily must complete the first two years of the curriculum by the end of the third year after initial enrollment; the remaining requirements of the curriculum ordinarily must be completed by the end of the fifth year after initial enrollment. Requests for exceptions are subject to review by the Council of Academic Societies (CAS). The maximum time permitted for completion of the MD degree is six years. A student is eligible for institutional financial aid for a maximum of four years of enrollment, excluding time spent on approved leave of absence.

SAP and Leaves of Absence

A student may be placed on a personal or medical leave of absence for a variety of reasons. The period of leave for which the student has been approved may be excluded from the maximum time frame in which an individual student will be expected to complete the program. However, under no circumstances will a student be allowed to take more than 10 years from the time of matriculation to complete the requirements for the MD degree, including leaves of absence (see Section 2.09).

Review and Notification of Lack of Satisfactory Academic Progress

During the annual review of a student’s SAP by the HMS Registrar, progression to the next academic phase is based on a review of all grades including unsatisfactory grades, withdrawals and incompletes. Any student who has not achieved a minimum of a satisfactory/pass in all core courses/clerkships cannot progress to the next phase.

The HMS Promotion and Review Board (PRB; Section 4.02), in consultation with the Registrar, will notify annually, in writing, all students who have not met the standards for Satisfactory Academic Progress outlined above (Qualitative Measures and/or Maximum Time Frame). The notification will indicate the nature of the deficiency, any methods that may be available for correcting the deficiency and any consequences that have resulted or may result, such as Monitored Academic Status (MAS), Academic Probation (AP), or withdrawal. A student who fails to meet one or more of the standards for SAP (qualitative and/or time frame) is ineligible for financial aid beginning with the term immediately following the term in which the SAP requirements were not met, pending results of the appeal process, outlined below. A designation of MAS can occur for a variety of reasons and does not necessarily affect SAP if the student is still considered to be progressing toward the degree (see Section 4.03).


Eligibility for continued financial aid will only be re-established if the student subsequently meets Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements, or if the student successfully appeals the decision to the PRB. The appeal must state the reasons for failing to meet SAP requirements, including, if applicable, special circumstances that contributed to the student’s failure to make satisfactory academic progress (e.g., an injury or illness of the student, the death of a relative, or other special circumstances), and the changes in circumstances that will allow the student to demonstrate Satisfactory Academic Progress at the next evaluation.

The assistance of the student’s Academic Society may be sought in the preparation of appeal. A student may also be required to submit a degree audit, course plan, and/or letter from the Academic Society Advisory Dean. All relevant materials will be presented to the PRB. If the PRB determines that the student’s appeal should be approved, the student’s aid will be reinstated.

Financial Aid Probation

Once an appeal has been approved, a student is placed on financial aid probation and is eligible for financial aid. The Academic Society, in conjunction with the student and the Registrar, will develop an academic plan for the student that will ensure, if followed, that the student is able to meet HMS’s SAP standards by a specific point of time. Ordinarily, this time frame will be for an academic year. The student is eligible for financial aid during the time frame stated in the academic plan. During this time, the student will be monitored on a semester basis to ensure that the conditions of the academic plan continue to be met. The academic plan may be shared with the PRB in reviewing a student’s status. At the end of the time frame stated in the academic plan, the student must have met the SAP standards. A student who does not comply with each SAP standard by the end of the financial aid probationary period is suspended from financial aid eligibility. Students are reinstated for financial aid eligibility when they have satisfactorily completed sufficient coursework to meet the standards of progress within the maximum time frames delineated above.

Please Note:  A student who has lost eligibility for financial aid due to deficiencies in satisfactory academic progress cannot automatically regain eligibility by paying tuition for a semester or by sitting out a term. Eligibility may be regained only by eliminating all SAP deficiencies at the student’s expense until all requirements of this policy are met.


Students who are withdrawn from HMS are not making satisfactory academic progress and are not eligible to receive financial aid.


The Offices of the Registrar and Financial Aid, the Academic Societies, and the Promotion and Review Board collaboratively have responsibility for monitoring and enforcing Satisfactory Academic Progress. The HMS Registrar will notify the PRB annually of any students who are not making satisfactory academic progress. The PRB will determine whether academic sanctions are warranted and will inform the student when warrented. The Financial Aid Office will inform any student whose financial aid has been impacted.

Last updated 3/18/22