Pell Grants are funds distributed by federal programs, offering students a needed source of educational financing. Eligible students will receive a specified amount every year that they remain in school. Unlike student loans, Pell Grants are not expected to be repaid.
In the 2014-2015 semesters, one-third of students at the undergraduate level received a Pell Grant.
How Awards are Determined
The only exacting requirement for Pell Grant eligibility is financial need.
The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) will determine individual need for financial assistance. They will use information supplied by the student and their family, plugging said information into a standard formula. This will produce a number. This is the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. The EFC will be compared to the expected cost of attending a specific college. The DoE will factor in tuition, fees, books, room and board, supplies and any other practical expenses. The DoE will then decide the amount of aid an individual can get.
With the exception of students in post-baccalaureate teaching programs, only undergraduate students with no bachelor's degree are eligible for Pell Grants.
Students have to have been accepted or be enrolled as a regular student in an eligible certificate or degree program. Applicants must have earned a high school diploma, GED or equivalency, such as a comparable education in an accredited home school setting.
Anyone applying for a Pell Grant needs to be a natural citizen or an eligible non-citizen.
Each year, there is a ceiling on the maximize amount any individual can receive. For the 2015-2016 award years, that amount was $5,775. For the upcoming 2016-2017 period, the amount is $5,815. Awarded grants will vary upon financial need, amount of time spent at the college (full academic year, less than full year, full or part study, etc.). If a student is attending more than one school at any given time, a Pell Grant can only be applied to one of those institutions.
If you are awarded a Pell Grant, the college will notify the student in writing of the amount. A school may have its own guidelines of how payments are made. The policy may be Pell Grant funds are credited directly to the college to meet student expenses. The school may turn a portion or an entire amount over to the student, depending on other financial considerations.
Colleges must distribute funds at least once a term. This can be during a semester, trimester or quarter. If there are no formal, defined terms, students must receive funds no less than twice per academic year.
Application for Pell Grants - like most state, federal and institutional financial aid programs - will have specific deadlines. It is best to check with the specific school to find out what those dates are. Pell Grants require completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. You may request a paper version of the application from the Federal Student Aid Information Center by calling 800-4-FED-AID (800-433-3243).