Federal Pell Grant

What is a Federal Pell Grant?

  • Pell Grants are the foundation of federal student financial aid, to which aid from other federal and nonfederal sources might be added.
  • Pell Grants are generally awarded only to undergraduate students—those who haven’t earned a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
  • In some limited cases, however, you might receive a Pell Grant if you’re enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certificate program.
  • Amounts can change yearly. The maximum award for the 2008–09 award year was $4,731.

A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Pell Grants are awarded usually only to undergraduate students. (In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program might receive a Pell Grant.) Pell Grants are considered a foundation of federal financial aid, to which aid from other federal and nonfederal sources might be added. You can apply for the Pell Grant by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Pell Grant is awarded to students who can prove the most financial need. Students applying for the Pell Grant must complete paperwork to determine their Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) for college. The EFC is a number assigned to the borrower’s application that is determined based on disclosed household financial information. If the applicant meets the criteria for receipt of a Pell Grant the award amount is based on:

  • the EFC number
  • whether the student is attending the college program on a full-time or half-time basis
  • how much of the academic year the student plans on participating in scholastic programs

The Pell Grant is awarded to millions of eligible students annually. Most of them come from families where household incomes fall below $20,000 a year. Considering the fact that a private college tuition averages upwards of $20,000 per year and a public university or college tuition averages half the amount, it is very easy to see the financial challenges faced by lower income students.

How much can I get?

The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2009-10 award year (July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010) is $5,350. For the 2010-11 award year (July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011), the maximum award is $5,550. The amount you get, though, will depend not only on your financial need, but also on your costs to attend school, your status as a full-time or part-time student, and your plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. Note: The maximum award amount is given for any Pell Grant eligible student whose parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept.11, 2001. You must be under 24 years old or enrolled at least part-time in college at the time of your parent’s or guardian’s death.

You may receive up to two consecutive Pell Grant awards during a single award year to accelerate your program toward your degree. You must be enrolled at least half-time and in a program that leads to an associate or bachelor’s degree or certificate.

If you received a Pell Grant for the first time on or after July 1, 2008, you can only receive the Pell Grant for up to 18 semesters or the equivalent.

If I am eligible, how will I get the Pell Grant money?

Your school can apply Pell Grant funds to your school costs, pay you directly (usually by check), or combine these methods. The school must tell you in writing how much your award will be and how and when you’ll be paid. Schools must disburse funds at least once per term (semester, trimester, or quarter). Schools that do not use semesters, trimesters, or quarters must disburse funds at least twice per academic year.