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How You Can Apply for the Federal Pell Grant for Free

As you start to secure funding for your higher education, you've likely come across the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This should be your first step in acquiring college funding. It allows you to apply for — and determines — if you qualify for any federal student aid.

The U.S. Department of Education will award financial aid via the FAFSA based on a student's or family's financial need for the upcoming academic year. The Pell Grant is one of the types of student aid you will potentially qualify for. But, what exactly is the Pell Grant and how do you apply?

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What is the Pell Grant and how do I apply?

The Pell Grant is federal subsidy intended for students with financial need. But "need" isn't as cut-and-dried as it may seem on the surface.

That is, need isn't determined solely by your family income. It also factors in things like how many children your family has in college, your family's assets, and your college’s cost of attendance (COA). COA is an estimate of tuition, books, room and board, etc., that you’ll find on the school’s website.

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However, it's important to know that Pell Grant recipients are obligated to achieve a standard of academic success. Check your school’s website to see what defines satisfactory academic progress. Often this involves maintaining a certain GPA, but it could also include a reuirement to enroll for a minimum number of hours or credits.

Applying for the Pell Grant

If you filled out the FAFSA for your upcoming school year (or plan to), you've already applied for the Pell Grant. Your Pell Grant eligibility is determined by the FAFSA you submit for the current award year. If you qualify for the federal Pell Grant program, you should be getting an award letter in the mail with your total Pell Grant award. 

The disbursement amount for the Pell Grant is generally decided by your school's financial aid office, but takes into account your enrollment schedule. For the 2022-23 school year, the maximum Pell Grant award for a full-time student is $6,495 per full academic year. Part-time students are still eligible for the Pell Grant, but not the full award amount.

Pell Grant eligibility requirements

In order to qualify for federal financial aid programs like the Pell Grant, you need to meet certain eligibility requirements. The federal government requires eligible students to meet the following requirements to receive a Pell Grant award:

  • You have to be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen (such as a permanent resident).

  • You need to hold a high school diploma, GED, or approved home-school certification.

  • You’ll need a valid Social Security Number.

  • If you’re a male between ages 18 and 25, you’ll need to be registered with Selective Service.

  • You must be in, or accepted to, an eligible certificate or degree program before receiving your Pell Grant funds.  

Pell Grants are primarily for undergrads working toward their first degree; students in select post-graduate teaching programs may also be eligible.

You can qualify for a Pell Grant even if you only attend school part-time, but you'll receive a smaller award.

Other ways to receive financial aid

If you don't qualify for the Pell Grant, there are still a few ways you can secure funding for your college education. You can try:

  • Getting Federal Student Loans: If you don't qualify for the Pell Grant, you may still qualify to receive some aid from the federal government in the form of federal student loans. While you will have to repay these, they can still be a great way to fund your college education.

  • Getting Private Student Loans: If you need additional funding for your schooling, you can also apply for private student loans through private lenders. These often have higher interest rates, but still work well to secure funding for school.

  • Sign Up For a Work-Study Program: Many colleges will offer a work-study program, allowing students to work a few hours a week to reduce their total tuition costs across the board.

Federal Pell Grant FAQs

How much financial aid can I receive from the Pell Grant?

Currently, the maximum award is $6,495 per school year. This figure can change from year to year.

You can receive only one Pell Grant per year, and from just one college at a time. Federal law mandates a lifetime limit equivalent to six years of Pell Grant funding. Since the maximum award you can receive in one year is 100% of available Pell Grant aid, you are then, over your college career, limited to 600% of available Pell Grant funding.

In simpler terms, that means you can receive up to the max Pell Grant limit every year for a total of six years (or 12 semesters). 

What can I use my federal Pell Grant funds on?

Use your Pell Grant to pay for qualified educational expenses, such as:

  • Tuition

  • College fees, such as computer labs, libraries, health centers, and athletic facilities

  • Textbooks and supplies (including course-specific items like safety glasses for a chemistry lab)

  • Room and board

  • Costs for dependent-care expenses, such as daycare, if you have dependents

Will I ever need to repay my Pell Grant?

Generally, no, although there are certain circumstances that might require you to repay your grant. Those are:

  • You withdraw from the degree program that qualified you for the grant.

  • Your enrollment status changes in a way that reduces your eligibility (i.e., your full-time enrollment becomes part-time.)

  • You’ve received external scholarships or grants that reduce your need for federal aid.

  • You did not fulfill the obligations of your TEACH Grant service.

Learn more about securing college funding with Nitro

Finding funding for college can be incredibly stressful with so many different types of loans, grants, and scholarships. However, you do want to make the best possible decision for your future career path and current financial situation.

Nitro College wants to make sure that paying for college is as easy as possible. We have tons of resources on student loan repayment plans, top scholarships and more. You (and your parents) can also apply for our $2,000 Nitro College Scholarship — no essay required!

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