What is a Pell Grant?

A Pell Grant is money provided by the federal government for qualified students with financial need to help pay for college (and valid certification programs). Pell Grants are funds that do not need to be repaid by students. In other words, a Pell Grant is free financial aid. So if you are worried you might lack funding for college, make sure you consider your eligibility to help cover costs.

Pell Recipients

Typically Pell Grant recipients are low-income students. The goal is to help alleviate undergraduate expenses for students with financial need. The funds can be applied towards tuition expenses, books, supplies, as well as other items.

In order to apply for a Federal Pell Grant, students must file their FAFSA. The FAFSA will evaluate your family’s financial need and determine your financial aid package. In addition, it will assess if you are eligible for a grant. See below for other requirements to be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant.

Pell Grant Eligibility

  • Have a high school diploma or GED certificate
  • Demonstrated financial need (as determined through FAFSA)
  • Be an undergraduate or vocational student
  • Be enrolled or accepted as a student at an participating degree or certificate program (see directly below).
  • School’s Participation (~6,000 institutions participate)
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • May not have a history of legal action, arrest history, or prior convictions
  • Other special circumstances (e.g., intellectual disabilities)
  • As a graduate student, eligible if working towards post-baccalaureate teaching certificate

Just because you are a part-time student doesn’t mean that you aren’t eligible. You may not receive as much funding as a full-time student, though. It is always worth applying to find out.

Maintaining Eligibility

I mentioned that grants are more or less monies you don’t need to pay back. But these additional requirements hold that students:

  • Continue to show financial need in the subsequent year (again, by retaking and submitting the FAFSA each academic year)
  • Continue to stay within satisfactory academic progress/standing at your institution
  • Retain citizenship status
  • Avoid any legal convictions, arrests, drug charges, etc.

Award Amounts for Pell Grants

The maximum award amount for the 2019-2020 academic year is $6,195. The actual amount that you may receive will be dependent on your financial need. The good news is that the minimum amount is 10% of the maximum award, which would be at least $619.50.

A student’s financial needs will be impacted by the following:

  • Your total cost of attendance
  • Your family’s expected family contribution (EFC)
  • Enrollment status; whether attending an entire academic year or semester

Keep in mind, that a grant may not be guaranteed every year. Imagine a scenario where your family’s income level increases (or decreases). Your Pell Grant award amount could increase or decrease depending on the circumstance. In addition, if you failed to meet an academic requirement or were involved in a crime, you could lose eligibility for funds. So it is imperative to stay up to date with your grades. If you fall behind, seek assistance from your department or a counselor to get back on track. Your university or college will be there to help, but you must help yourself by seeking assistance first.

Financial Aid Refund

Sometimes it is possible for your Pell Grant award to exceed your costs for tuition and other expenses at the time of disbursement. If this is the case, you will receive a Pell Grant refund.

Grants vs Scholarships

Both scholarships and grants are helpful to paying for college because they are free money. That said, it’s important to highlight that grants, like the Federal Pell Grant, are different from scholarships. For starters, scholarships are merit-based, which means they are awarded based on specific achievements, such as academic or athletic accomplishments. Grants are need-based, which means they are evaluated and awarded on demonstrated financial need.

You won’t need to pay back your grant unless you withdraw early from a program or have a change in your enrollment status.

For international students, applying for FAFSA isn’t an option. But programs like the Fulbright Scholarship are an option to help with funding. This are highly coveted and hard to obtain scholarships, so make sure to research other outside scholarships to help fill the gap. Also, check out our article on financial aid options for international students.

In Conclusion

In sum, remember that it is always free to file your FAFSA. Secondly, it is free to apply for the Pell Grant (this happens automatically though FAFSA). The Pell Grant maximum award is also subject to yearly changes. In order to receive the Pell Grant funds again, you must file your FAFSA each year — there are no exceptions. Because a Pell Grant is a grant, you do not need to pay back the funds. Therefore, a Pell Grant is an absolute no-brainer for anyone that is looking for a way to help pay for school.