*Updated January 29, 2020
Pell Grants can be one of the best resources for college students in need of extra money to help pay for their education. These grants are awarded and disbursed by the federal government.
Unlike loans, recipients don’t have to pay back Pell Grants. This is, essentially, free money to students who could use some help paying for college.
Pell Grants are solely need-based grants, so the amount awarded is determined based on the student’s financial standing and enrollment status. Grades, test scores and academic performance in general are not taken into account.
Here are some quick facts about Pell Grants:
1. Pell Grants are accepted at 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions.
2. A student can receive a Pell Grant for a maximum of 12 semesters or the equivalent (approximately 6 years).
3. Pell Grants are typically granted only to undergraduate students. In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification or licensing program may be eligible.
4. The maximum Pell Grant for the 2019-20 award year (July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020) is $6,195. This figure, which could change yearly, is set to remain the same in the 2020-21 award year.
5. The minimum award is approximately 10 percent of the maximum. For the 2019-20 award year, the minimum Pell Grant will be $650.
To find out more about Pell Grants, read on.
1. Are you eligible for Pell Grants?
To qualify and apply for a Pell Grant, you must meet ALL of the following requirements.
First, you must have a high school diploma, GED, or approved homeschool education.
Second, you must be enrolled in an eligible degree/certificate program. Check with your school’s financial aid department to confirm eligibility.
Third, you must be registered with the Selective Service, if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25.
Fourth, you must have a valid Social Security Number, unless you are a citizen of the Pacific Freely Associated States (the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau).
Fifth, you must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national, OR fall under one of the following categories of eligible noncitizens who have:
- A green card;
- A Form I-94, “Arrival-Departure Record,” showing “Refugee,” “Asylum Granted,” “Cuban-Haitian Entrant,” “Conditional Entrant” (valid if issued before April 1, 1980), or “Parolee”;
- A battered immigrant status, or is the child of a person with battered immigrant status; or
- A T-Visa (for victims of human trafficking).
Sixth, you must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). To demonstrate this, students must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA), take a minimum number of credit hours per semester, and be on track to complete their degree in an acceptable time period. The standards for SAP vary from school to school, so speak with your school’s financial aid office to see what you should expect.
Seventh, you must demonstrate financial need, which will be assessed based on the data on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Finally, you must NOT already have a bachelor’s or professional degree (with the exception of some students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification or licensing programs).
2. How much will you get in Pell Grants?
If you qualify for Pell Grants, the amount you will receive will depend on your financial need, which the federal government calculates based on the following criteria:
- Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC): Your EFC is an index number used to determine how much financial aid you would receive at a school. This number varies from school to school based on the cost of education there. Your EFC is determined by your college’s financial aid department based on the information reported on your FAFSA. For more information on how your EFC is determined, see this EFC formula guide.
- The cost of attendance (COA), as determined by your school for your specific program: Your COA is determined by the following factors: (1) tuition and fees; (2) room and board or off-campus living expenses; (3) the cost of books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and other expenses; (4) disability costs, when applicable; (5) an allowance for child care or other dependent care, when applicable; and (6) the cost of eligible study-abroad programs, when applicable.
- Whether you are enrolled as a full-time or part-time student.
- Whether you intend to attend school for a full academic year or less.
The financial aid department at your school will determine the amount of aid you qualify for.
Here are the tables used to calculate Pell Grant award amounts for the 2019-20 period.
3. How to apply for Pell Grants
In order to apply for a Pell Grant, you must fill out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA, which, as its name suggests, is free to fill out and submit, is used by current and prospective colleges to determine a student’s eligibility for various forms of financial aid.
You have to fill out the FAFSA every year in order to stay eligible for federal awards, so make sure you stay on top of the deadlines and any changes in the form.
Filling out the FAFSA can be a long process that requires a lot of information, so be sure to start early and get it in as soon as possible. Luckily, the open date every year is October 1, so you have plenty of time to fill it out before the federal deadline on June 30.
States and even schools also have their own deadlines for FAFSA submission, so it is best to check with your school’s administration to make sure you get your form in on time.
4. How will you receive your Pell Grant?
After you’ve filled out your FAFSA, received an aid offer from your school, and informed your school about which financial aid you want to accept, you are ready to receive your Pell Grant.
How you will receive your Pell Grant depends on your school’s disbursement policy. Schools may apply the Pell Grant funds directly to your school costs, pay you directly, or use a combination of these methods.
Generally, your Pell Grant, along with any other grants or loans, will cover a full academic year and will be disbursed in at least two payments. Typically, these payments come once per academic term (semester, trimester, or quarter).
In most cases, your college will apply your Pell Grant funds, along with other grants and loans, directly to your tuition and room and board fees. If you have any grant or loan money left over, your school will pay you in the form of a refund.
5. How to stay eligible for Pell Grants
If you meet the basic eligibility criteria for federal aid, then keeping your grants is as simple as keeping your grades up, taking enough credits, and filling out the FAFSA form each year.
There are a number of ways you might lose your eligibility for federal student aid. You may no longer meet the basic eligibility criteria if your immigrant status has changed, for example, or if your grades have slipped.
Whatever your situation, there may be a way to remedy it and regain your Pell Grant funds. Some schools, for example, will allow you to appeal if you’ve failed to maintain a satisfactory academic process. See here for more information about regaining federal aid eligibility.
For more information on Pell Grants, the FAFSA, and more student aid options, go to the official website of the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office.
Sam Benezra is a graduate of Ohio University with a B.A. in History from the Honors Tutorial College. He is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Sam enjoys writing on a variety of subjects, including science, music, politics, film. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, playing guitar, and writing songs.