How To Apply For A Pell Grant: Requirements & Qualifications

Jon O'Donnell Updated on October 3, 2017

If you are looking for help paying for an undergraduate (and in some cases, a graduate) education, you may be eligible for the federal government’s Pell Grant Program. The Pell Grant provides need-based funding for use at approximately 5,400 participating colleges and universities. Grant amounts depend upon your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the cost of tuition, your enrollment status and whether you attend school for a full academic year or less. Best of all, the federal Pell Grant does not have to be repaid.

What are the requirements to receive a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are typically awarded to undergraduate students working toward their first bachelor’s degree or professional degree and are usually not available to graduate students. However, if you already have a degree and are enrolled in a teacher certification program, you may be eligible. Other requirements include:

  • Demonstration of strong financial need: When you apply for federal financial aid, your family’s income, assets and financial obligations will be considered to determine whether you qualify for Pell Grants or other need-based funds.
  • Your school’s participation: The college or university you plan to attend must participate in the Pell Grant Program. To find out whether Pell Grants are offered at your school, contact its financial aid office.
  • United States citizenship: You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen (a permanent resident with a green card) to qualify for any federal financial aid.
  • A clean legal record: If you’ve been imprisoned or convicted of certain drug-related or sexual offenses, you may not be eligible for a Pell Grant.
  • Academic progress: Once you’ve received a Pell Grant, you must maintain certain academic standards to maintain it. Your school determines if your academic progress has been satisfactory, usually considering your attendance, course completion and grade point average.

A note about special circumstances: Students with a parent who was killed in military duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, or students with certain intellectual disabilities, may qualify for special Pell Grant funding.

How much aid will you receive if eligible?

Maximum amounts for Pell Grants vary from year to year. For the 2016-17 academic year, the maximum amount you can receive is $5,815, but not everyone eligible for a Pell Grant will receive the maximum. How much you can receive depends on the cost of your school’s tuition, your total need as determined by the EFC calculated when you apply for federal financial aid, whether you plan to attend college for a full academic year and whether you’ll be attending part- or full-time.

How do you apply for a Pell Grant?

There’s no separate application for the Pell Grant. Simply fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and your eligibility for a Pell Grant will be determined. Before you start your FAFSA, learn what you’ll need in order to complete it correctly.

You can fill out the FAFSA in three ways:

  1. Apply online through the S. Department of Education’s website.
  2. Complete a PDF version of the FAFSA, which must be printed and mailed.
  3. Fill out a paper version of the FAFSA and submit it by mail.

Paper applications are available by calling the U.S. Department of Education’s toll-free number for federal financial aid, 1-800-4FED-AID (1-800-433-3243). However, the Department of Education recommends you complete the application online.

Pell Grants are not renewed automatically. To keep receiving the grant, you must fill out the FAFSA for each year that you need aid.

How will you receive your Pell Grant aid money?

After you receive your federal financial aid award letter, your college or university will disburse the Pell Grant funds to cover expenses like tuition, registration fees, lab fees, and room and board. Your school can apply federal Pell Grant funds to your tuition bill, pay you directly or combine these methods. If you have any funds left over, you’ll receive a check. See all the things you can use Pell Grant funds for here.

Help with FAFSA and the Pell Grant.

Before you discount the Pell Grant because you think you or your parents make too much money, think again. Financial need is a criterion, but Pell Grants are not based solely on need. Separate fact from fiction about the Pell Grant. And then get step-by-step help to complete your FAFSA and get on your way to securing federal financial aid for college.

Published in: Grants

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon O'Donnell is a staff writer and marketer who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process. Jon has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their personal finances. When Jon isn't informing people about how to make smart financial decisions, you can probably find him in the kitchen attempting to cook up something delicious. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

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