Pell Grants are one of the most common forms of financial aid that American college students receive. Across the country, millions of scholars use Pell Grant funds every year to help pay for their school expenses.
The great thing about grants is that they don’t have to be paid back, unlike loans.
Pell Grants are specifically need-based financial aid; only low-income students who demonstrate financial need can receive them.
While many folks know the basics, there are a few things you may not know about the trusty Pell Grant:
1. The most important Pell Grant requirement is filling out the FAFSA
If you think you may be eligible for a Pell Grant, there’s only one way to find out: by completing the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
Because the Pell Grant is a federal program, you can only get these funds by applying through the Department of Education.
2. You can get one every semester you’re eligible
Receiving a Pell Grant is not a one-time deal. Students from families that demonstrate financial need on the FAFSA each school year can take out a Pell Grant each semester.
Furthermore, funds are not first-come, first-serve. The Department of Education provides funding for every student who qualifies, regardless of when they apply.
3. They can be used for more than just tuition
While many people assume that Pell Grants are just for paying tuition, the funds can be used for much more.
Any school-related costs, from room and board, to a new laptop, to travel expenses to and from school can be covered with Pell Grant funds.
4. They can be used during the summer semester
Some people assume that these funds are only available during fall and spring semester, but a new rule change has expanded Pell Grants to cover summer coursework as well.
5. The amount awarded varies by student
For the 2021-2022 school year, the maximum amount a student can get in Pell Grant funds is $6,495 annually. But not everyone who gets the Pell Grant gets the max.
The Department of Education uses your family’s income to determine not only eligibility, but also the amount of the grant. The more need your family demonstrates, the more you are likely to be awarded.
Your enrollment status also affects amount. If you’re enrolled at less than a half-time status, you more than likely won’t be getting the maximum amount.
6. Some schools don’t accept Pell Grant funding
Even if you are eligible based on need, there are thousands of schools across the country that don’t participate in this grant program.
If you believe your family’s income will qualify you for a Pell Grant, you’ll want to double check with your school before you count on that aid.
7. You can’t take out Pell Grants forever
While Pell Grants are renewable each semester as long as a family continues to demonstrate financial need, there are limits to how much you can take out.
Students are only allowed to receive these grants for 12 total semesters and cannot exceed their lifetime eligibility for the Pell Grant.
8. You have to maintain your grades to get it
Though not as stringent as some scholarship requirements, you still have to keep your grades up to keep getting the Pell Grant.
If you don’t make satisfactory academic progress, you can lose eligibility. Contact your school to find out what minimum GPA they require to stay in good standing and keep your financial aid.
9. Children of veterans killed in action may be eligible for additional aid
If your parent died while serving in the military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and you were under the age of 24 or enrolled in college at the time, you may be offered additional Pell Grant aid.
If you meet these requirements, in some cases the Department of Education will calculate your Pell Grant award as if your family’s income was zero.
You must qualify for the Pell Grant in order to receive the award increase. If your family’s income is too high, you may be eligible instead for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.
10. You can’t get a Pell Grant if you’ve already earned your degree (with one exception)
Students with a bachelor’s degree are not eligible to take out a Pell Grant for additional undergraduate coursework or graduate studies.
However, one major exception to this rule is future teachers. Students who have received their undergraduate degrees, but are returning to school to get a teaching certificate may still be eligible to take out the Pell Grant.
Trish Sammer is Nitro's managing editor. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Redbook, Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Forbes. She has also written for various corporate clients, including the tech giant SAP, The Franklin Institute, and PSE&G. When Trish isn’t busy acting as a writing ninja for other people, you can find her … well, writing about other stuff, like divorce and blended family life. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, their combined brood, and the world’s laziest dog. Read more by Trish Sammer