College and undergraduate education get a bad rep due to the increasing cost of tuition and student loan debt. Some high school students don’t apply to college because their families can’t afford to pay, or they can’t risk defaulting on a student loan. However, there’s a way out. Namely, the Federal Pell Grant.
For a student trying to figure out how to pay for college, getting approved for a Pell Grant can make all the difference in the world. Knowing the details of this federal subsidy can go a long way.
Read on to learn all about the Pell Grant, what it is and how much it can provide, or jump straight to the list of Pell Grant eligibility requirements.
What is a Pell Grant?
The Pell Grant is a subsidy provided by the federal government to deserving (undergraduate) students i.e. those belonging to low-income families. The grant usually pays for tuition, but can also be used to pay for boarding and other expenses, in special cases.
Unlike student loans, recipients of a Pell Grant, or any other federal grant, for that matter, aren’t required to pay the amount back.
The money you receive can be paid either directly to your college, or be handed over to you. Any leftover money, after deducting all of the qualifying college expenses, will be given to you.
Pell Grants are eligible for 12 semesters (or 6 years of education).
How Much Does a Pell Grant Pay?
The amount received varies from person to person, and depends mostly on their family’s income level. The federal government has set different Pell Grant income limits, which you can review here.
To be more specific, it’s calculated by comparing your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) with the Cost of Attendance (COA) at your institution.
That being said, there’s a limit to federal student aid. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the maximum limit for Pell Grants is set at $6,195 (a $100 increase from last year). The government changes the maximum limit each year.
The children of those who died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 are eligible for receiving additional funds, under the special “Iraq and Afghanistan Service” Grant.
To get an estimate of how much you can get from a Pell Grant, use the FAFSA4caster tool.
How to Apply for a Pell Grant?
To be considered, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
You can either fill it out online on FAFSA.gov, or print the form (request your school for a physical FAFSA form), and mail it to Federal Student Aid Programs, P.O. Box 7002, Mt. Vernon, IL, 62864-0072.
If you hope to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, but don’t have enough savings to attend college (or are unwilling to take out federal student loans), the Federal Pell Grant is a promising option for you. However, there’s a set of criteria that you have to meet.
Here are all of the Pell Grant requirements:
- You’re a U.S. national – U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens i.e. those with green cards, Arrival-Departure records, battered immigrant status, or T visas, are eligible.
- You have completed secondary education – Applicants with high school diplomas, GEDs, or approved homeschooling, are eligible.
- You demonstrate exceptional financial need – The information provided in the application (family income, the college you’re applying for, etc.) is used to determine if you’re in need of financial aid. The lending authority plugs this information in a formula to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is then subtracted from the Cost of Attendance (COA) at your school, to find out if you qualify.
- You’re enrolled in/have been accepted into an undergraduate program – These grants are awarded to those enrolled in (and those who have been accepted into) undergraduate programs as regular students. Exceptions are only made for students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teaching programs.
Other Pell Grant eligibility requirements include:
- If you’re a male, aged 18 to 25 years, you have to register with the Selective Service.
- There shouldn’t be any instance of you having defaulted on a federal loan.
- You have to maintain satisfactory academic progress at college (discuss with the dean or the head of your school to find out their academic performance benchmarks).
- You must have a valid social security number (applicants belonging to the Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Republic of the Marshall Islands are exempt from this).
- Your school must participate in the Federal Pell Grant (you can access the list of participating institutions, along with their codes, on the IFAP website).
- Your legal record should be clean (with no instance of imprisonment or conviction for sexual and drug-related offenses).
You’re eligible if, and only if, you check all of the boxes above. There are no age limits for a Pell Grant.
How Do I Stay Eligible for the Pell Grant?
Staying eligible for the federal Pell Grant is simple. Just continue meeting the eligibility criteria.
This includes everything, from demonstrating urgent financial need to maintaining the standard for academic progress at your school.
In addition, you must fill out the FAFSA form every year. This way, the federal government receives your updated information, in case they reconsider you for the grant.
Can I be Asked to Repay My Pell Grant?
By law, you’re not required to repay a grant.
However, that rule only applies to those who maintain the eligibility requirements.
You can be asked to repay all (or a certain portion) of your grant, if you:
- Drop out from college before 60% of your academic term is over (repayment amount is calculated using the withdrawal date).
- Switch from a full-time to a part-time study curriculum (reducing the amount you’re eligible for).
It’s a slippery slope when it comes to maintaining your earned aid, so tread carefully.
Does the Federal Government Offer Additional Grants?
In case the Pell Grant isn’t sufficient in covering your expenses, the federal government offers 3 additional grants that can help you make ends meet.
Apart from the Pell Grant, the government also offers:
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – This grant awards up to $4,000 a year to those who demonstrate exceptional financial hardship. Those who receive the Pell Grant are given priority for the FSEOG.
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) – The TEACH grant is meant for students who are enrolled in an approved program that’s focused on educating and training them to teach in a high-need field. Recipients can be disbursed up to $3,764 per year. However, the TEACH grant can sometimes be wrongfully defined as a general student loan, with all applicable conditions. Make sure you adhere to the exact criteria for TEACH to avoid that.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – Students whose parents have passed while serving military duty in Afghanistan or Iraq after 9/11 (and were younger than 24 years old when their parents passed away), are eligible for this grant. They must also be found eligible for the Pell Grant. Under this grant, students can receive up to $5,829.5 every year.
Besides federal grants, you can also apply for scholarships at your college. However, if you’re a recipient of any federal grant, getting a scholarship can reduce the total amount you get.
On top of that, you could also consider applying for grants to pay off student loans.
For many, paying for college sounds nothing short of an unachievable dream. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
By aiming for the Pell Grant, you can turn this dream into an achievable reality – but remember, it’s not a dead-end if you don’t qualify for it.
At the end of the day, it’s just one of the many options that are open to you. There are many other financing avenues that you can explore, some of which include scholarships, education tax credits and deductions, and more.