Unlike a student loan, a Federal Pell Grant is a form of financial aid money granted to students that is not required to be repaid. One of four need-based grants, a Federal Pell Grant is awarded to low-income students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or professional degree.
The federal aid, which provides funds that can be used for tuition and fees, room and board, school supplies, books, transportation and more, was created to make postsecondary education more accessible for students with financial need.
A student looking to receive a Federal Pell Grant must first be an undergraduate or vocational student enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a participating school. There are around 5,400 postsecondary institutions participating in the Federal Pell Grant program; the full list can be viewed here. If you’re a postbaccalaureate student in certain teacher certification programs, you might also be eligible.
Check Your Eligibility
Beyond the above enrollment requirements, Federal Pell Grants require that students meet the Basic Eligibility Criteria for federal financial aid. These criteria include general necessities such as a high school diploma or equivalent, valid social security number, U.S. citizenship, financial need demonstration, and more.
The only way to determine a student’s financial need and thus become eligible for a Federal Pell Grant is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA will calculate a family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which measures a family’s financial strength. The EFC is an incredibly important factor in determining need-based financial aid.
The amount of money one is awarded through a Federal Pell Grant is entirely dependent on his or her Financial Need, which is the difference between a school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) and the Expected Family Contribution. The amount of Federal Pell Grant funds given also depends on the student’s enrollment status—full-time, part-time, etc.
Awarded through participating colleges, Federal Pell Grant funds are disbursed either directly to the student, credited to the student’s account, or provided through a combination of both payment methods. There is a maximum Federal Pell Grant award amount, but it varies from year to year; the minimum award is at least 10 percent of the maximum. Additionally, students must be paid at least once per term, whether that is a semester, trimester or quarter.