Your Comprehensive Guide to Pell Grant Requirements

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Afraid you won’t be able to go to college because of a lack of funding? It’s time to consider the Pell Grant, a source of federal financial aid that you don’t have to pay back.

The need-based Pell Grant has been the “single largest source of grants for postsecondary education” in four decades, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Department of Education estimates that 7.6 million students will be awarded the Pell Grant in 2019, for a total of $30.4 billion in aid.

Read on to learn more about Pell Grant requirements, income limits and what to consider when filling out a Pell Grant application. Don’t miss this opportunity to get free financial aid.

What is a Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant was created in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. It was later renamed for Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell. Its main purpose? To bring the dream of college within reach of students who could not have afforded it otherwise.

Pell Grant requirements

You have to show proof of exceptional financial need to be eligible for this money. There aren’t many other Pell Grant application requirements. You must be a student seeking an undergraduate degree, who isn’t incarcerated or involuntarily committed to a mental health unit after incarceration for a sexual offense. You can’t get the grant if you already have another degree. However, you can be eligible as a graduate student only if you’re working towards a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate.

There is a maximum lifetime usage for this grant, with a limit of 12 semesters of aid. The most you can receive in a year changes annually — it’s $6,195 for the 2019-20 academic year.

Since this is a grant, not a loan, it’s money for those who are eligible. You will only need to repay all or part of the grant if you withdraw from school early, if outside scholarships or grants cover your costs, or if your enrollment status changes your eligibility for the grant.

The final reason you would need to repay the funds from a Pell Grant is if you mistakenly receive more money than you were eligible for, known as “overpayment.” In this case, you must pay the excess back to your school or set up a payment plan to do so within 45 days of getting notice.

Pell Grant income limits

Since your inability to afford college is the basis of the Pell Grant, family income level is a major qualifying factor. There’s no national income limit to worry about, but the Pell Grant amount you’re awarded will depend on your expected family contribution (EFC) — as calculated on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) — and your school’s cost of attendance.

EFC is the amount your parents will contribute to your education. There are multiple formulas used to calculate your EFC, but you can see what yours might be by using the FAFSA4caster tool from the U.S. Department of Education.

If your parents’ income renders you ineligible but they don’t have the intent or ability to pay for your schooling, the only way you can exclude their income is if you’re considered “independent.” Use this worksheet to help determine if you qualify as independent for purposes of the FAFSA.

It’s important to note that living separately from your parents doesn’t automatically designate you as independent when qualifying for federal college funding. Neither does the fact that your parents don’t claim you as a dependent on their tax forms.

How to apply for a Pell Grant

To apply for a Pell Grant, fill out the FAFSA every year, from your senior year of high school through college. This application puts you in the running for federal loans, work-study programs and grants — including the Pell Grant.

Best of all, filling out the FAFSA is free. Even if you think you won’t qualify for the Pell Grant or other federal aid, submit a FAFSA just in case you do — or at least to have access to student loans if you need them.

The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 each year. You’ll fill it out in order to get funding for the next academic year. There are three deadlines for the FAFSA: your college, state and federal deadlines. A good rule of thumb is to fill out the form as soon as possible to maximize the funding you receive, since some awards, like work-study, are given on a first-come, first served basis.

After you apply, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report. Review it to make sure that the information on your FAFSA is correct. The next item will be an award letter from your college detailing how much aid you’ll receive. The letter will also let you know if you qualify for the Pell Grant.

Children of service members could be eligible for more aid

If you’re a child of a service member killed in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you might be eligible for additional Pell Grant funds.

You must have been younger than 24 when your parent or guardian died, and you must be currently enrolled part-time or full-time in a college or a career school. According to the Federal Student Aid office, if you meet these requirements and are otherwise eligible for a Pell Grant, your EFC requirement will be zero. This can help you become eligible for more Pell Grant funds.

On the other hand, if you’re unable to get funding through the Pell Grant, you may qualify for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The same eligibility criteria apply, you can seek the grant simply by filling out a FAFSA. This grant previously matched the maximum Pell Grant, but the maximum amount for 2019 is now $5,810.91 if funds are disbursed before October 1, 2019, and $5,829.50 if funds are disbursed afterwards.

Final quick tips about the Pell Grant

Here are a few quick pointers about the need-based Pell Grant to remember as you consider how to pay for college.

  • The Pell Grant is free aid for college — the money doesn’t have to be repaid (conditions may apply).
  • It’s free to apply for the Pell Grant, which you can do by submitting your FAFSA.
  • The maximum Pell Grant amount for the academic year 2019-2020 is $6,195.
  • You can only use the Pell Grant for one school at a time.
  • The Pell Grant won’t affect the amount of other federal financial aid available to you.
  • Children of service members who died in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 might be able to receive more Pell Grant funding.
  • Your school will disburse any federal aid you receive, including the Pell Grant.
  • Any funds left over from the grant after paying for tuition, fees, room and board (if applicable) is then disbursed directly to you.

Even if you think you don’t qualify for the Pell Grant, fill out your FAFSA anyway. It’s free and it puts you in the running for other types of federal aid. Of all Pell Grant requirements to know, this is the most important: You can’t receive any funding from this grant if you don’t fill out your FAFSA.

Sarah Li Cain contributed to this report.

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