There’s financial aid for college, and then there’s free financial aid. To minimize the amount of student loan debt you may incur to pay for college, always be sure to apply for grants and scholarships that don’t have to be repaid. If you have strong financial need, the Federal Pell Grant, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, can provide up to $5,815 (for the July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, application period). This is money that you don’t have to repay.
Applying for the Pell Grant
You’ve heard about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Among other things, the FAFSA is your application for a Pell Grant. The application asks for financial information about you and your parents if you are a dependent. That information is used to calculate your financial need, based on the cost of attending your school and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The amount of Pell Grant money you could be awarded depends on your financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.
Eligibility to apply for the Pell Grant
Your FAFSA will be eligible for review for Pell Grant funds if you meet these criteria: You must be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident with a green card. You must be an undergraduate student who has not earned a bachelor's or a professional degree (but in some cases a student enrolled in a graduate teacher certification program may be eligible). Students who have had a parent killed in military duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, or students with intellectual disabilities, may qualify for special Pell Grant support. Individuals who are incarcerated in a penal institution or who have been convicted of certain drug-related or sexual offenses may not be eligible.
Financial need must be demonstrated
While the FAFSA is required for federal, state and school-based aid of all kinds, your FAFSA will be reviewed for eligibility for a Pell Grant if you meet all of the requirements above. Pell Grants are awarded to students whose FAFSA indicates strong financial need. Your and your family’s income and assets will be taken into consideration, as well as your financial obligations for housing, utilities, transportation and child care. If your financial need matches the Pell Grant standard, your FAFSA will be evaluated by your school and a specific Pell Grant amount will be assigned to your file.
Reviewing your Pell Grant
Your Pell Grant does not automatically renew itself each academic year. You must complete the FAFSA each year, and your application will be reviewed each year for financial need. Be sure to submit your Renewal FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 (the new, earlier due date) each year. You must also remain eligible, which means you must maintain satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school. You must avoid any legal problems or arrests and maintain your citizenship status. In addition, you must stay current on repaying any federal student loans.
First things first
Before you can qualify for Pell Grant funding, you must complete your FAFSA. Make sure you are prepared to do that successfully. Learn about the 17 things you need to do before you start work on the FAFSA.