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The Pell Grant

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An undergraduate student looking for assistance to pay for college has several types of financial aid to consider. Many colleges offer eligible students financial aid opportunities, like scholarships, grants, and work-study programs.

Federal student aid, like federal work-study and student loans, can assist undergraduate students with financing their education. The Pell Grant is one of the most common types of financial aid among undergraduate students, though you must meet strict eligibility requirements to qualify. Created in 1972 and named after Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, the Pell Grant is the most extensive grant program offered by the U.S. Department of Education. It is a form of financial aid awarded to low-income undergraduate students to help them afford college tuition fees and other educational expenses. The Pell Grant is highly sought after as, unlike a typical student loan, it does not need to be repaid.

7 Pell Grant Eligibility Requirements

  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Be an undergraduate student enrolled full-time or part-time
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Maintain satisfactory academic performance
  • Be free from criminal convictions
  • Be enrolled in a post baccalaureate teacher certification program
  • Must meet lifetime eligibility requirements

The Pell Grant is one of many forms of financial aid that prospective students can use to help them afford their college tuition and other expenses. This federal student aid is assistance from the government, unlike other grants and scholarships funded by private organizations.



The Pell Grant fund pays students based on several eligibility factors, including financial need, academic year enrollment status, and satisfactory academic progress. Federal Pell Grant funding also cuts off for students who have met the lifetime cap for Pell Grant eligibility.

Note –

The Pell Grant is only available for 12 terms (approximately six years), after which you do not remain eligible to receive an award amount.

What Is a Pell Grant?

Affording college is a challenge for many American families. The average costs of college tuition today range between $9,000 for in-state students and $27,000 for out-of-state students. College costs have doubled in the 21st century and yearly costs have increased by 6.8%. On top of tuition, students must also pay for books, housing, transportation, and other associated costs.

Federal student scholarships, grants, loans, and other federal financial aid can help a qualifying student afford tuition and fees. The Pell Grant is one of the most well-known and most-used federal student grants, offering students up to thousands of dollars to apply to their college education.

Unlike private or federal student loans, recipients of the Pell Grant do not need to pay it back. The Pell Grant award is for higher education students who show a financial need for assistance. The amount the government awards each student depends on how much the student or their family contributes to their education during the award year, the school’s cost of attendance, and the student’s enrollment status.

The maximum payout for the 2022-2023 Pell Grant award year is $6,895. Students will typically receive the grant in split payments for each semester, or $3,447.50 per semester if they’re eligible for the maximum award amount. Students with lower costs of attendance or higher household contributions may not qualify for the maximum Pell Grant.

The federal Pell Grant program typically pays funds directly to schools, and the schools then pay eligible students the amounts they qualify for. Your school’s financial aid office must tell you how much of your Pell Grant is being applied to your tuition and fees and how much it will return to you, if applicable. Federal Pell Grant funds above your education costs may return to you to use for other education-related costs, like housing or transportation.

Note –

Your Federal Pell Grant award amount will not be affected by any other student aid you may receive.

7 Pell Grant Eligibility Requirements

College students must meet a few requirements to be eligible for Pell Grant funding.

1. Demonstrate financial need

Pell Grant eligibility is largely based on financial need, similar to federal programs like SNAP benefits and Medicaid. The grant program seeks to help those students who are most in need of financial aid to attend college.

To apply for a Pell Grant, students must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application lets the Department of Education know more about a student’s financial situation, including their parents’ income and other household income, if applicable.

The Pell Grant program determines eligibility based on this application, and more specifically, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount a student and their household can contribute to their education. How much a student receives is calculated by subtracting EFC from the student’s cost of attendance and determining the student’s financial need.

2. Be an undergraduate student enrolled full-time or part-time

The primary goal of the Pell Grant is helping students with a financial need afford college. Therefore, Pell Grants assist undergraduate students in achieving their educational goals through financial aid. Students who have previously earned a bachelor’s degree or higher are usually not eligible for the Pell award, as they’ve already had the opportunity to access a college education.

Federal Pell Grant funds can go to students enrolled either full-time or part-time in a qualifying college program. Usually, full-time students pursue at least 12 credits per semester, while part-time students may earn 6-9 credits per semester, on average. Part-time students may receive less Pell Grant funds than full-time students.

3. Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen

Anyone eligible for the Pell Grant must either be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen. In most cases, U.S. citizens must have a valid Social Security number, which they’ll provide when they fill out the FAFSA.

To be an eligible non-citizen for federal Pell Grant funding, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be a permanent resident of the U.S. with a valid Alien Registration Card
  • Be a conditional permanent resident
  • Have an Arrival/Departure Record as the victim of human trafficking, refugee, or another valid designation

When you fill out your FAFSA, you can provide documentation to prove your eligibility as a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.

4. Maintain satisfactory academic performance

Students do not have to show good grades and a strong academic performance to be awarded the Pell Grant. However, they do need to maintain good academic performance to remain eligible for their award.

Rather than make its own standards to adhere to, the federal Pell Grant program relies on schools to determine whether their standards have been met. For instance, if a school decides that a student has not maintained an acceptable grade point average or enrolled in enough credits to keep their Pell Grant funds, it can cut off funding for the student. However, students can regain their eligibility in some instances.

5. Be free from criminal convictions

Students who have had criminal convictions may not be eligible for federal student aid, including the Pell Grant, or may have limited access to it. Those who are incarcerated in a federal or state institution cannot receive any type of federal student aid, but those in non-federal or state institutions may be eligible for a Pell Grant.

Furthermore, individuals convicted of a sexual offense may not be able to receive the Pell Grant. However, drug convictions no longer affect a student’s eligibility to receive the Pell Grant, but they should answer questions about their convictions honestly on the FAFSA.

6. Be enrolled in a post baccalaureate teacher certification program

A postbaccalaureate teacher certification program helps students with bachelor’s degrees earn their teaching certification. The Pell Grant allows learners completing this type of education program to still qualify for the Pell Grant.

These students may also qualify for the TEACH Grant, which pays funds to students who plan to teach a high-need subject in schools serving low-income students.

7. Must meet lifetime eligibility requirements

The Pell Grant is not given to students for an indefinite number of years while they complete their schooling. Instead, the Pell Grant is allowed for a maximum of 12 terms, or about six years of higher education.

Pell Grant lifetime eligibility may be less than six years, however, if you complete more than two semesters in a year. For example, a student attending the summer, fall, and spring semester can use the Pell Grant for all three semesters, leaving them with nine terms left.

The Department of Education will let you know if you’re close to reaching your Pell Grant lifetime eligibility limit so that you can plan your future financial aid.

Pell Grants for Military Dependents and Survivors

Students who are children of military personnel who died in the line of duty may be eligible for additional Pell Grant funds. To be eligible for these additional funds, the parent must have died after 9/11 as a result of their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. They must have also passed before the student turned 24 unless the student was enrolled in college at least part-time. Children of a public safety officer who died in the line of duty may also be eligible for these additional Pell Grant funds.

However, students seeking the Pell Grant still need to qualify based on their EFC. For students who have an EFC that puts them over the amount eligible to receive a Pell Grant, they may qualify for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant instead. The program pays the same amount as the Pell Grant and will not be more than your cost of attendance.

Does a Pell Grant Have To Be Repaid?

Most students do not have to repay the Pell Grant, as it’s federal money funded for students in need and does not work the same way as a student loan.

Still, some students will need to repay the Pell Grant funds they’ve received under special circumstances. This usually only happens when you do not maintain eligibility requirements that you agreed to when receiving the grant, such as maintaining satisfactory academic performance or continuing to be enrolled at least part-time.

Pell Grant recipients who received funds through the TEACH Grant will also need to pay back their grant funds if they do not meet the obligations for the TEACH Grant within the specified time period.

Federal Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility

Students can receive the Pell Grant for a maximum of 12 terms. The maximum award amount a student is allowed for the year is equal to 100%.

If a student uses half of their maximum award, they have used 50% of their lifetime eligibility. However, they could use more than 100% if they’re enrolled in three semesters rather than two. This is why the program allows up to 600% for up to six years of Pell Grant funding. When a student reaches 600% of their allowed amount, they will meet Pell Grant lifetime eligibility and will no longer be able to receive Pell Grant funds.

An Undergraduate’s Guide to the Federal Pell Grant

Generally, employment rates are higher for people who have completed at least some college or have a bachelor’s degree. The Federal Pell Grant program invests in students to improve access to higher education and benefit the overall economy.

Students who meet citizenship, academic, and financial eligibility requirements can receive a Pell Grant for up to 12 terms or six years. To maintain eligibility, they must maintain satisfactory academic progress as determined by their school and remain enrolled at least part-time. People with convictions or who have been or are incarcerated may not be allowed to receive funding.

To apply for the Pell Grant, fill out the FAFSA with your current financial and household information by the deadline for the relevant academic year.



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