What is the Pell Grant?
The Pell Grant is intended to provide students from low-income households with access to higher education, and eventually, an opportunity to gain a successful job. The program is entirely funded by the federal government and the grant can be applied for once during each academic year. Most public technical schools, colleges and universities offer disbursement of the Pell Grant, but you will want to check with your school to make sure it participates in the program.
Since the grant is provided by the government, individual schools do not set any restrictions on who is eligible for the program. This means that, unlike a scholarship, you will not be required to compete against other students to apply for the Pell Grant. The maximum award amount is increased yearly.
Your school has the option of applying your Pell award to any outstanding educational expenses you may have. But, if you do not have a balance due, you will receive your award as a check.
The school is legally required to pay you at least once each school term. This means that if you attend an institution that operates on the quarter system, you will receive your annual award separated into four checks. You will be issued one check during each quarter. If your school operates on the semester system, your aid will similarly be divided by semester.
There are a few requirements to apply for the Pell Grant. The first qualification is that you must complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Your financial eligibility for the Pell Grant will be determined according to the income information you provide for you and your family. If you meet the eligibility, a mathematical formula is then used to calculate exactly how much aid you will receive that year.
For the 2009-10 academic year, students are eligible to receive up to $5,350, but the actual amount you receive may be less, depending on your individual circumstances.
The amount of the award you receive is also affected by other factors. To receive the maximum amount of the grant, you must be attending school full-time. If you are attending school part-time or if you will be enrolled for less than a full academic year, your award will decrease dramatically. Your personal costs to attend school will also have an effect on your award.
If you are receiving assistance from family members, your grant will likely be lower than someone who is personally paying for school.
Generally, the Pell Grant is only available for students who are currently pursuing an undergraduate degree. This includes students who may already possess an Associate’s Degree, but are now working toward their first Bachelor’s Degree. Pell Grants are available for postgraduate education, but on a very limited basis and with several restrictions.
While you are not required to maintain an excellent GPA, you will have to have the minimum in order to qualify for financial aid. At most institutions, the minimum is a 2.0 or the equivalent of a C grade. Maintaining this GPA is generally enough to show that you are making satisfactory academic progress.
If you are having trouble meeting this requirement, talk to the Financial Aid Department at your school. They will usually provide assistance that can help you to bring your grades up to meet the standards.
You will also have to show documentation of your legal eligibility for the Pell Grant. In order to qualify for federal financial aid, you must be a United States citizen, a legal immigrant with a U.S. registration card, or a non-citizen with recognized circumstances, such as being a refugee or having sought political asylum.
To apply for the Pell Grant, then, you will have to meet these basic qualifications:
- Complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
- Demonstrate a genuine financial need
- Be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at a participating institution
- Be enrolled at least part-time in school
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress
- Be legally authorized to receive federal financial aid
How to Apply
If you currently meet the requirements to receive a Pell Grant, how do you apply for one? The only thing you will have to do is complete the FAFSA. Since the Pell Grant is provided by the federal government, you will already have applied for one as soon as you complete your FAFSA form. There are no additional forms for you to fill out. If the information on your FAFSA shows that you qualify, you will automatically receive the aid.
To complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you will need the following information:
- Proof of your income, from a W-2 form or a form 1099
- Proof of your family’s income, if you are a dependent
- Your most recent tax return
- Your family’s most recent tax return, if you are a dependent
- A current bank statement
- Living expenses, such as mortgage information
- Your Social Security number and Driver’s License number
- The Social Security numbers of your family members, if you are a dependent
If you are currently being claimed by your parents on a tax return, it may be helpful to complete this form along with them so that you will have access to all of the information you will need. Your parents will also have to sign the form along with you.
Once you complete the FAFSA, take it to the Financial Aid Department at your school. The school will then process it and send it in for review. Once your form is reviewed, you will be informed of your eligibility and how much your award will be. This notice will be mailed out before the funds are made available to you.
Final quick tips about the Pell Grant
So, what do you need to know about Pell Grant requirements and other facts right now?
Here are a few quick pointers to keep in mind.
- The Pell Grant is free aid for college — it doesn’t have to be repaid.
- It’s free to apply for the Pell Grant, which you can do by submitting your FAFSA.
- The maximum Pell Grant amount for the academic year 2017-2018 is $5,920.
- You can only use the Pell Grant for one school at a time.
- The Pell Grant won’t affect the amount of other federal financial aid available to you.
- Children of servicemembers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 might be able to receive more Pell Grant funding.
- Your school will disburse any federal aid you receive, including the Pell Grant.
- Any funds left over from the grant after paying for tuition, fees, and room and board (if applicable) is then disbursed directly to you.
Remember, even if you think you don’t qualify for the Pell Grant, fill out your FAFSA anyway. It’s free and it puts you in the running for all types of federal aid. Of all the Pell Grant requirements to know, this is the most important one: You can’t receive any funding from this grant if you don’t fill out your FAFSA.
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General Eligibility for Federal Aid
Before you get to the specific requirements for a Pell Grant, you must meet the general criteria for federal student aid. Take the quiz below to see if you qualify for free Pell Grant money.
Those requirements are:
- For most programs, you must demonstrate and document a legitimate financial need.
- You must be a citizen or an eligible non-citizen — a U.S. National or a permanent resident, for example.
- You must have a valid social security number, unless you fall into one of the very few specific exceptions.
- If you’re male and between 18 and 25, you must register with Selective Service.
- You must be enrolled or at least accepted into an approved educational program or institution. If you’re enrolled, you must be taking a course load of at least half time and be in good academic standing.
- You must sign a statement certifying that:
- you are not in default on any federal student aid program
- you will only use your funds for education
- You must show that you are ready for higher education because you have completed high school, a GED, or a homeschool program of study.