What You Need To Know About Educational Pell Grants

What You Need To Know About Educational Pell Grants

Updated August 28, 2020
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The Federal Pell Grant may award you up to $6,345* per year for school if you qualify. Find out how you may qualify.

If you need help offsetting the cost of college, you may be eligible for federal grants*. If you qualify, you may not have to repay a grant if you graduate**. Grants are only awarded to those that meet the requirements of the program.

There are many grants available for college students today, but the most common is the Federal Pell Grant. You may receive up to $6,345* per year, but it depends on how much you qualify to receive. Not everyone receives the maximum amount – it’s based on your need and when you apply.

What is the Pell Grant?

The Department of Education awards educational grants to students of exceptional financial need. The award is for undergraduates and is dependent on:

  • The amount of your family’s expected contribution
  • The cost of the school you will attend
  • Whether you attend school full-time or part-time

You can only receive Federal Pell Grant funds for one school at a time and you receive the funds per semester (half in the fall and half in the spring). In rare cases, you may get 150% of the amount awarded if you attend summer school and receive approval to receive additional funds. For example, if you are awarded $1,000 per semester, you may receive a total of $3,000 rather than $2,000 for the year if you attend summer school.

While your grades may not make a difference in your Pell Grant eligibility, some schools do set a minimum GPA of at least 2.0 in order to qualify. This may vary by school, so check with your school to find out.

How Much Can You Get?

How much you receive depends on how much your family is expected to contribute based on the Department of Education’s calculations. The school your child attends will determine how much you receive after you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid Application.

Schools use the following information when calculating your need:

  • Taxed income
  • Untaxed income
  • Assets
  • Benefits (social security, pension, etc.).
  • Your family size
  • How many college-aged students you have

The school also uses the cost of attendance at their school in the calculation. If it’s determined that you have financial need, you may be eligible to receive up to $6,345*, but most students receive less than this amount.

If you are eligible for funds, the DOE will pay your school directly. Any funds left over will be disbursed to you to cover other costs of attending school. The Pell Grant funds are often used for tuition, fees, and room and board. If you receive money yourself, you should use it toward books, living expenses, transportation, or other school-related expenses.

Completing the Pell Grant Application

Each year, the Department of Education sets a deadline date in April for the next academic year. You must apply by the deadline in order to be considered for the Pell Grant. Since funds are finite, though, you should try applying as early as possible for the largest chance at receiving an award.

The application process is simple:

  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
  • You’ll receive an analysis of your application that includes your family’s expected contribution
  • On your analysis, you’ll also see if you are eligible for a Pell Grant
  • You must respond quickly in order to accept the grant

How to Maintain the Grant

The Federal Pell Grant isn’t automatically awarded every year. You must reapply each year by completing the FAFSA each year that you are enrolled in school. If eligible, you can use the grant for a maximum of 12 semesters. Once you use up your benefit, you cannot reapply.

Do you Have to Repay the Pell Grant?

The grant, as we said above, is money you don’t have to repay if you graduate**, but that’s only if you fulfill the promises made to obtain the grant. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, you may need to repay some or all of the grant:

  • You withdrew from the program that the DOE awarded the grant to you
  • You dropped classes that changed your enrollment from full-time to part-time
  • You received additional scholarships outside of the DOE that reduces your liability

Your school will let you know immediately if you must repay some or all of your grant. For example, if you went from full-time to part-time, you may have to repay the portion of the grant that covered the hours you are no longer attending school.

If your school does notify you that you must repay some or all of the grant, you have 45 days to do so. If you can’t afford to repay it in full, you can request a payment arrangement. If you don’t make good on your debt, you could lose your chance of future eligibility for DOE grants.

Checking Your Status for the Pell Grant

Once you complete the FAFSA, you should hear back within one to two weeks regarding your eligibility. If you don’t hear back, you can check the status online on the FAFSA home page. Once you log in, click on the ‘My FAFSA’ tab to check the status of your application and the possibility of obtaining a Pell Grant.

Federal Pell Grants are just one way to get financial assistance for college. Since the funds are limited, this is one of those ‘first-come, first-serve’ scenarios where the earlier you apply, the higher your chances of getting an award become. It is a need-based award as well, which the DOE takes into consideration when you complete your FAFSA. Exhausting all options for federal aid can help decrease the amount of student loans you need to take out, helping you decrease the cost of college overall.

*https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships/pell **https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/grants#why-repay-grant

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