The federal Pell Grant is one of the most talked about forms of financial aid available. It is specifically designed to make college more affordable for students who have a financial need and doesn’t come with virtually any of the trappings associated with student loans.
Even though awareness of the Pell Grant is high, many people don’t have all of the details regarding what it is, how it works, what the requirements are and who is eligible. If your student is applying to college soon, here’s what you need to know.
What’s a Pell Grant?
A federal Pell Grant is a form of financial aid provided by the government. Students with a demonstrated financial need can receive money to help make college more affordable. The Department of Education sets the Federal Pell grant amount and eligibility requirements, and they can change from one year to the next.
Who Qualifies for a Pell Grant?
However, there are Pell Grant qualifications beyond financial need your student also has to meet. For example, they need to be enrolled in an eligible degree or certificate program at an approved school. They also need to be a US citizen (or eligible noncitizen), and a high school graduate, a GED holder, or have completed an approved home-school regimen.
It’s important to note a student’s Pell Grant eligibility can be impacted by their criminal history. Individuals who are incarcerated, either on a federal or state level, do not meet Federal Pell Grant qualifications. Similarly, anyone who is required to register as a sex offender cannot receive a Pell Grant.
What are the Pell Grant Income Limits?
Federal Pell Grant eligibility is typically based on your student’s EFC, not a hard income limit. The only exception tends to be for an “automatic zero EFC,” where the student gets an EFC of zero regardless of any other data on their FAFSA.
For the 2019-2020 school year, the income threshold for dependent students and their parents to receive an automatic zero EFC is $26,000 or less.
Otherwise, your student needs to calculate their EFC to see if they qualify for a Pell Grant, as income levels alone do not determine Pell Grant eligibility.
It should be noted Pell Grants are aimed at low- and middle-income households, so students from high-income households are less likely to qualify.
How to Get a Pell Grant
If your student wants to apply for a Pell Grant, they are in luck. Why? Because the Pell Grant application is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That’s right; the same FAFSA they need to apply for college and other federal financial aid is all they need to complete to see if they meet the Pell Grant eligibility requirements.
However, this also means students effectively have to requalify for the Pell Grant every year. When they complete the FAFSA throughout their time in college, their Pell Grant eligibility is reassessed. They might receive the grant one year, but not another.
How Much is a Pell Grant?
How much a student may receive in Pell Grant funds depends on a few factors. While the Pell Grant maximum for the 2019-2020 school year was $6,095, not everyone who qualifies for one receives the full amount.
Here is an overview of what determines a student’s Pell Grant amount:
- Your Student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
- The Cost of Attendance (Determined by the School and Your Student’s Program)
- Their Status as a Full-Time or Part-Time Student
- Whether Your Student is Planning to Attend for a Full Academic Year or Less
The Department of Education publishes a Pell Grant chart, which is revised for each academic year. It provides a solid overview and can help your student produce a Pell Grant estimate. The Pell Grant chart of 2019-2020 is not available yet. However, since the Pell Grant limit of $6,095 is unchanged from the 2018-2019, the awards will likely be similar (though may not be exact). Here is the chart for 2018-2019 for reference: Award Chart
Additionally, your student can use the FAFSA4caster as a Pell Grant calculator, letting them get an idea of how much they could receive.
Are There Situations That Result in Bigger Federal Pell Grant?
Yes, it is possible to receive a larger Pell Grant than your student would usually qualify for, but these situations are fairly rare.
One more common instance where a student may receive up to 150 percent of their original Pell Grant award happens when they attend school year-round.
For example, if your student receives $3,000 as a Pell Grant, it is usually split between a fall ($1,500) and spring ($1,500) semester. However, if your student chooses to attend classes during the summer too, they could get an additional $1,500. This “year-round Pell” situation brings the total value of their award to $4,500, or 150 percent of the original amount.
Additionally, if a student’s parent died in either Iraq or Afghanistan or in the line of duty while working as a public safety officer, they may receive Pell Grant funds as if their EFC was zero, even if it is higher when they complete their FAFSA. Now, this doesn’t mean they can get any more than the Pell Grant maximum, so students with an EFC that already qualify them for the full amount won’t see additional funds.
Can You Get a Pell Grant for Graduate School?
In most cases, Federal Pell Grants are only awarded to undergraduate students. However, some students enrolled in post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs may receive Pell Grant money.
How is a Pell Grant Paid?
If your student is going to receive Pell Grant money, the funds aren’t necessarily sent to them directly. Your student’s school determines how the award is paid, usually requesting it be sent directly to them.
However, if any money is left over after handling items like tuition and room and board, the school typically provides your student with a check for the difference. Then, they can use that money for supplies and other costs.
Do You Have to Pay Back a Pell Grant?
By and large, students do not have to pay back a Pell Grant as long as their enrollment status remains the same and they have a clear need.
However, if your student withdraws early from their program, reduces their enrollment (such as by switching from full-time to part-time), or receives outside college grants or scholarships that reduce their need, they might have to repay the Pell Grant, either in part or in whole.
If your student needs to repay a Pell Grant, their college will notify them. Then, your student would have 45 days to either pay back the money or enter into a repayment arrangement, such as a monthly payment plan.
Failing to repay the Pell Grant can cause it to be turned over to collections, which can impact your student’s credit. Plus, they lose their eligibility for any further federal student aid, including everything from additional Pell Grants to federal Stafford loans.
Are There Other Federal Grants for College?
Yes, there are a few other federal grant programs that help students pay for college, including the following:
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
Each of those forms of financial aid has their own qualifications, but they are worth exploring if your student wants to find options for paying for college that aren’t student loans.
Plus, there are other ways to pay for school that don’t involve debt, like scholarships!
If you want to find out about scholarships or other awards and opportunities that make it easier for your student to graduate debt-free, then join our free webinar! You’ll learn about the entire scholarship process, including how to track down opportunities, organize critical documents, complete applications, write amazing essays, and more. If you are ready to get started, head on over to http://thescholarshipsystem.com/freewebinar to find out when the next training session is available.