Jon O'Donnell Updated on July 5, 2017

If you’re looking for money for college, the federal Pell Grant is probably already on your radar screen.

The Pell Grant is one of the major sources of funding for many college students. However, it’s important to make sure you apply before the deadline so you don’t miss out on your share of free money for college.

Let’s talk about what you need to know to apply for a Pell Grant for the 2017-2018 school year.

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are “free money” awarded from the federal government to students who can demonstrate financial need. As with all grant money, you don’t have to pay back any Pell Grant money you receive.

Even though Pell Grants originate from the federal government, the funds are distributed by the nearly 5,400 participating colleges and universities. Each school is granted an allotment of money, which they then disburse among eligible members of the student body.

How do I get a Pell Grant

There is no “Pell Grant application.” Rather, you are automatically considered for the Pell Grant when you apply for FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

While FAFSA can be a challenge to fill out, it is your only gateway to federal grants and loans, as well as some state grants and scholarships, so it’s definitely worth putting in the time.

We’ve created a free online guide to help you through the process.

What is the deadline for applying for a Pell Grant?

It’s important to be very aware of deadlines when it comes to the Pell Grant. Why? Because there’s more than meets the eye.

For example, to apply for aid for the 2017-2018 school year, you must complete the FAFSA by June 30, 2018. That means you have plenty of time, right?

Not so fast.

States and individual schools may have earlier deadlines. For example, Pennsylvania has a deadline of August 1, 2017. For a complete list of state deadlines, check out this page on the FAFSA website.

And don’t forget to check with your prospective schools to find out what their deadlines are. Once they’ve allotted all of their Pell Grant money, you’re out of luck until the following year.

Am I eligible for a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are generally awarded to U.S. citizens who are working toward their first undergraduate or professional degrees.

To be eligible for a Pell Grant, you must plan to attend a college or university that participates in the Pell Grant program. (Call your selected schools to find out.)

There are no specific income limits when it comes to the Pell Grant. Rather, when you apply for FAFSA you will be evaluated based on your family’s income, assets and financial obligations in relation to the cost of school.

You’ll also need a clean legal record. Some offenses may bar your eligibility for a Pell Grant.

You may also qualify for a Pell Grant, regardless of income, if you have intellectual disabilities or if you have a parent who was killed in military duty.

How will I get the money from my Pell Grant?

After you’re accepted into a college, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter based on your FAFSA application. That letter will contain info about Pell Grant awards.

Then, the college will either pay you directly or disburse your Pell Grant funds to pay for tuition, fees, and room and board. If there is money left over after that, it will distributed to you to pay for books or other school expenses.

How much money can I get from a Pell Grant?

Maximum amounts for Pell Grants change every year. For 2017-2018, the maximum Pell Grant award is $5,920.

However, keep in mind that not everyone will receive the maximum amount. Your award will be determined by the cost of your school’s tuition, your “expected family contribution,” which is a value that is calculated based on your answers to several FAFSA questions, and whether you’ll be attending school full- or part-time.

To get an idea of what you might be eligible for, look at the disbursement schedules from the Federal Student Aid website here. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on one of the links to view the tables as PDFs or Excel documents.)

What if the Pell Grant doesn’t pay enough?

If you still need money for college after grants and federal loans, you might want to consider looking into a private student loan.

Find out more about the best banks for private student loans here.

Best Banks for Private Student Loans in 2017. Get Your Rate.

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