The Pell Grant has helped countless Americans go to college and continues to help millions of Americans every single year. It is a need-based federal financial aid plan that you don't have to pay back in most cases. It was created to help qualifying low-income students pay for the rising costs of college.
Created in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the Pell Grant got its new name from Rhode Island’s Senator Claiborne Pell. He had a dream for college to be within any reach for any student, especially those who did not have the financial backing to do so.
The Pell Grant can be applied towards tuition, fees, room and board, books, and any other educational expenses you come across. Keep reading to learn more about the Pell Grant and if it is the perfect way you can afford college
How Much Is Available With The Pell Grant?
The biggest question most people have is how much can you get with the Pell Grant - and that's a very important question to ask if you are looking for a higher education, since college tuitions are higher than they have ever been.
It changes annually so depending on when you access this kind of loan it may be different. The maximum Federal Pell Grant amount for the 2020-21 is $6,345*.
Term wise, the academic year will go from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 - so you can use this as a guideline when it comes time to apply for financial aid.
That figure will very likely change by next year, but it’s likely to go up as it does every year to reflect the rising costs of tuition.
Who Is Eligible For The Pell Grant?
Since the basis of the Pell Grant is centered around financial need, income limits play a big role in who is eligible for the Pell Grant. There isn’t a single-amount, national income limit that you have to worry about meeting, instead it takes into account your expected family contribution (EFC) as well as your school’s average cost of attendance.
EFC is the amount that your parents can contribute to your education. The Department of Education offers an online calculator that helps you calculate what yours might be for your family. When you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) there will also be a calculator so you can get an accurate estimate.
For children whose parent(s) served in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Pell Grant.
Pell Grant Requirements
The single most important qualification you must meet for the Pell Grant is financial need – specifically, proving that you are in exceptional financial need to pursue your education. Other than that, the Pell Grant requirements are pretty small.
Additionally you must either be looking to attain your first undergraduate degree, or be a graduate student working towards a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate.
There is a lifetime usage consideration that applies to the Pell Grant. There is a 12 semester limit of possible aid. While this limit may not be a big factor for full-time students, it is something to consider if you are attending part-time.
It is possible to lose the Pell Grant and even have to pay some of it back, although those times rarely happen. If you withdraw, or your enrollment status changes, you will have to pay back some or all of the grant.
In rare instances you may receive more money that you were eligible for when you applied through FAFSA. This is referred to as an ‘overpayment’ and the student must then repay the excess money within 45 days of their notice. You can typically set up a payment plan option if this happens.
How To Apply For The Pell Grant
The FAFSA will be something you are well accustomed to if you have spent any time looking into furthering your education at a collegiate or university level. To apply for the Pell Grant you simply have to fill out your FAFSA with factual, accurate information.
Filling out your FAFSA is completely free, and even if you don't think you are eligible for the grant, you can still try and see. Each year on October 1st the FAFSA will become available for the following academic year.
You should aim to fill out your FAFSA as quickly as possible, because there are some grants and scholarships that are awarded on a first come first serve basis. Once you have finished your application you will receive a Student Aid Report.
How Pell Grant Funds Are Disbursed
When you are approved for the Pell Grant, you can receive your funds one of two ways. Most commonly, it will be sent to your school and held as a credit on your account against what you have been charged for tuition, housing, and other qualifying expenses. Alternatively, you can get your funds sent directly to you in the form of cash, check, or EFT.
Some schools will have more guidelines on how your funds are disbursed. They may set you up on a payment schedule where you get some money to cover one semester and the remainder for the following semester. It all depends on your college or university so make sure to reach out to the registrar and financial aid department of your school to get accurate information.
Remember, the Pell Grant is a grant and not a loan (for those who are eligible). This means that after you have finished your undergraduate degree you won't have to pay back any of the money you received from the Pell Grant once you graduate!