A Simple Guide to Understanding Pell Grants

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pell grant

The cost of college continues to rise. Tuition and fees alone averaged almost $10,000 a year for four-year public institutions in 2017-2018, according to the College Board. And that number didn’t include room and board, travel, and other costs.

One way to pay for school is with grants, including the Federal Pell Grant. Grants and scholarships are awards students don’t need to repay. Read on to find out what a Pell Grant is and how you can get one to help you pay for school.

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants, and most other grants for college, are need-based, while most scholarships are merit-based. But both are free funds you don’t have to pay back — unlike student loans.

All incoming freshmen should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To remain eligible for Pell Grants and other forms of federal aid, you must fill out a FAFSA every year you’re in school. Your family’s income will be a big factor in determining how much aid you’ll receive from the government, including grants.

How to get a Pell Grant

After you fill out your FAFSA, you’ll be notified of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in your award letter, which also outlines how much aid you’ll receive from scholarships, grants, and loans. You’ll be considered for other federal grant programs when you complete the FAFSA, but the Pell Grant is one of the largest available.

While there’s no age limit, Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who are enrolled at least part time. Your school can use your Pell Grant funds to pay you directly or apply them to your costs — or a combination of both.

Keep in mind that you can receive Federal Pell Grants for no more than 12 semesters (or about six years), but the Department of Education doesn’t say they have to be consecutive.

How to qualify for a Pell Grant

Pell Grants are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need. If you have greater need, you’ll be awarded more than someone who has the means to contribute financially to their education.

You don’t need to choose a particular school to qualify for a Pell Grant, but some colleges might offer their own awards in addition to any federal grants you receive.

How much money do Pell Grants award?

How much you’re awarded will depend on several factors:

  • Your financial need
  • Your school’s cost of attendance
  • Whether you’re a full-time or part-time student
  • Whether you plan to attend for a full academic year

The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2017-2018 school year was $5,920, according to the Department of Education. Amounts can change yearly, and if your status changes, so will your award amount.

Since the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public institution is nearly double the maximum Pell Grant award, you’ll probably need more than this one grant to pay for college. That’s OK. It’s common for students to use multiple resources to pay for college.

How to pay for college in other ways

Once you’ve exhausted your federal options, research grant opportunities at the state and institutional levels. Many scholarships are available as well. While most scholarships are based on merit, not need, you might be able to use them to find extra money for college. They can be as specific as scholarships for black women or as broad as scholarships for attending a certain school.

Loans also can help you pay for college. There are federal loans, such as the ones outlined in your award letter, and private student loans, which you can apply for in addition to any federal aid you receive. Your parents also can see if they qualify for Parent PLUS Loans to help cover your college costs.

There are many different and affordable ways to pay for college, so don’t limit yourself.

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Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.