Are you a prospective undergraduate student looking for ways to fund a Bachelor’s degree in the USA? Do you have US citizenship or permanent residency, and come from a low to the middle-income family? You may be eligible to apply for a Federal Pell Grant to help pay for your studies.
What is a Federal Pell Grant?
A Federal Pell Grant is government awarded financial aid money that helps provide access to postsecondary education for low and middle-income undergraduate students. These grants are restricted to those completing their first undergraduate degree or certificate.
As it is a grant and not a loan it does not require repayment, provided the recipient meets the program requirements and remains enrolled in the University of the duration of the grant period.
The Federal Pell Grant program works with other sources of student aid to help make up postsecondary education costs. This means that the Pell Grant itself is considered the base foundation of a student’s financial aid package, upon which other forms of aid are added.
The amount of each Pell Grant is dependent on several factors:
- Expected family contribution (EFC)
- Cost of annual tuition
- Enrollment status (full-time or part-time)
- Duration of program
The maximum award amount has been readily increasing each year. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the maximum amount was set at $6,195. For a full table of Pell Grant amounts for the 2019-2020 award year based on expected family contribution, tuition, and enrollment status click here.)
What costs can a Pell Grant be used for?
Any federal student aid – including Pell Grants – can be used to cover a wide variety of costs. These expenses include:
- General tuition and university fees
- Books and supplies
- Transportation to and from home and University
- Miscellaneous personal expenses
Part of the benefit of this academic grant is its flexibility and versatility in how you can spend it.
The following are basic eligibility requirements for any Federal Grant, including Pell Grants:
- Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Have a valid Social Security number (Note: Students from the following are void of this requirement: the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federal States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau)
- If male, be registered with Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 25
- Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment at a participating institution
- Have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent
In addition, the Pell Grant award will only be considered for students who can demonstrate a requisite level of financial need. Pell Grants are readily distributed each year, but most recipients come from families where the annual household income is below $25,000. Financial need is calculated using the FAFSA form, explained in the “How to Apply” section below.
How to Apply
Students should apply for a Pell Grant as early as possible because funds are limited and awarded on a first come, first served basis. The application process begins with the student and student’s family completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
This form should be completed on or prior to March 1st of the academic year for which funding is being applied for; for example, if the recipient’s first year of university will begin in September of 2020, the form should be filled out before March 2020.
Note that the FAFSA must be re-submitted each year the recipient is applying for aid, even if there have been no changes in financial or academic circumstance. For any changes in EFC, enrollment status, tuition, etc., the application can be modified in Step 3 (“Make corrections to a processed FAFSA”) of the online application.
If the FAFSA application is completed or updated successfully before March 1st, the answers to the questions provided will determine eligibility and award amount for the Pell Grant. Within 1-2 weeks of submission, the applicant will receive a “Student Aid Report” by email or postal delivery. This report will include a breakdown of the EFC and a list of any other aid programs that the student may be eligible for based on the information they provided on the FAFSA.
If the student is eligible for the Pell Grant, the amount they are entitled to will also be included in the report along with a description of how the amount was calculated.
Pell Grant funds are typically paid directly to the recipient’s college or university, 2 to 4 weeks prior to the beginning of the academic term. In rare cases, the funds are transferred to the individual directly, in which further case instructions are given on a case by case basis.