How to Become Eligible for Federal Pell Grants

Calendar Icon Updated November 22, 2019
Pell Grants

Federal Pell Grant awards are based primarily on a student’s financial need. Awarded to low-income undergraduate students, the Federal Pell Grant program was instated to help create easier access to postsecondary education for those with financial need.

In order to be an eligible Federal Pell Grant recipient, you must fit the following requirements:

  • Be an undergraduate or vocational student currently enrolled or accepted to be enrolled in a participating school. (Certain postbaccalaureate students who are in a teacher certification program might also be eligible.)
  • Have not previously earned a bachelor’s or professional degree
  • Meet the Basic Eligibility Criteria for federal financial aid

The Basic Eligibility Criteria is the federal government’s list of prerequisites that demonstrate someone is eligible for financial aid. That list requires you do all of the following:

  • Have a high school diploma, GED certificate or equivalent
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • If you are a male, register with the Selective Service, which you can do here or through the FAFSA
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in your college or career school
  • Sign the certification statement on the FAFSA. This states that you are not in default on a federal student loan, that you do not owe money on a federal student grant, and that you will use federal student aid only for educational purposes.

More information on the government’s Basic Eligibility Criteria can be found here. Additionally, if you are incarcerated or subject to a civil commitment upon completion of incarceration for a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense, you are not eligible for Federal Pell Grant funds.

Even if you meet all of the above criteria, you will not receive Federal Pell Grant funds unless you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application will fully evaluate the financial need and determine whether or not you are eligible and will be awarded a Federal Pell Grant. The FAFSA will determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), a number that measures your family’s financial strength. The lower the EFC, the greater a student’s financial need.

The federal government does not determine the financial aid amount that is awarded to you. Rather, the school(s) listed on your FAFSA will determine it by calculating the difference between the cost of the school and your EFC.

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Eligibility Team

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