When deciding to go to school for an associate's or bachelor's degree, one of the hardest things to determine in the entire process is how you will pay for school. There are many options available, from student loans to Pell Grants, and determining which is best for you will take a little know-how. You probably know student loans are saddling lots of people with a lifetime of debt, especially when you consider the high interest that so many of them charge. What does that mean for people who want to attend school, but don't want to be in debt for years to come? If you don't want to apply for student loans, you can always learn how to apply for Pell Grants.

If you don't know how to apply for Pell Grant, you may have questions on what to do to submit an application. You may not meet the requirements to qualify for a Pell Grant. Read on to determine if you are eligible and learn how to apply for Pell Grant. You'll better understand the amount you qualify for if you must repay the Pell Grant, and more information on the ins and outs of Pell Grants.

What Is A Pell Grant?

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To determine if a Pell Grant is for you, you should first know what one is and how it can help you pay for school. A Pell Grant is money the government provides for people who have displayed the right amount of financial need and have not earned a degree. These grants, unlike loans, don't have to be paid back in most cases, although there are a few exceptions, which we've listed below. Eligible students receive a certain amount each year divided into two semesters, and in the 2017-2018 school year that was roughly $6,000. About one-third of undergraduate students received Pell Grants in 2105.

What are the reasons you would have to repay a Pell Grant? Here are the main reasons people pay back Pell Grants:

  • You withdrew early from the program for which you are using the grant; you must repay the money.
  • Your enrollment status changes from a full-time student to a part-time student. You must pay the portion back you are not using.
  • You received outside aid that took you out of a financial need for a Pell Grant.

If you must repay the Pell Grant, your school will notify you, and you have 45 days to repay the amount specified.

Requirements & Qualifications

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Before putting in the effort to learn how to apply for Pell Grant, you must first establish a financial need. The U.S. Government determines if you qualify, but they will consider your Expected Family Contribution or EFC. You can calculate the EFC according to a formula established by federal law. Your family's taxes and untaxed income, assets, and benefits are all considered, as are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college during the year for which you are applying for aid. It is important to note that your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college.

Aside from the EFC, the government will also determine if you are eligible to receive other financial aid or if you have already been awarded any scholarships or other grants. What are other factors that determine if you qualify for a Pell Grant? Check out the following to see if you qualify:


  • Your school's participation - The college or university you plan to attend must take part in the Pell Grant Program in order for you to qualify for a Pell Grant to use for an academic program at that school. You can find out whether your school offers Pell Grants by contacting the school's financial aid office or visiting their website.
  • Your Citizenship - You must be a United States citizen or eligible non-citizen (a resident with a green card) to qualify for any federal financial aid, including federal loans and Pell Grants. Most scholarships also require the same.
  • Legal or arrest record - Certain arrests, especially those pertaining to drug-related or sexual offenses, will disqualify you from being able to receive a Pell Grant and most federal loans.
  • Your academic records - To keep a Pell Grant, or to qualify for future Pell Grants, you must maintain a good attendance record, complete all of your courses, and earn a certain grade point average, as determined by your school.

How To Apply For Pell Grant

Now it is time to learn how to apply for Pell Grant so you can get money to help you pay for school. The process may seem scary, especially when you consider the eligibility requirements. Don't worry! All you have to do is fill out some paperwork, submit documents, and wait. If you have ever filled out a Free Application for Financial Aid, or FAFSA, then you already know how to apply for Pell Grant because it uses the same document you submit for financial aid. If you have not done this before, the paperwork shouldn't intimidate you.

The Process

Before jumping into learning how to apply for Pell Grant, you must first fill out a FAFSA application to establish you have a financial need.

application form

By visiting www.fafsa.ed.gov, you can determine your eligibility for a Pell Grant, as your eligibility is based solely on the information you submit on the FAFSA application. Remember to provide accurate information because providing false information is illegal. You can also complete a PDF version of the FAFSA, which you must print and mail. There is also the option to fill out a paper version of the FAFSA and submit it by mail, which you can pick up at the school of your choice, or you can request a paper FAFSA from the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243).

It is important to remember that Pell Grants don't renew automatically and you must fill out the FAFSA for each year you need a Pell Grant for financial aid. You should, therefore, keep information on how to apply for Pell Grant so you can reapply when you need easily. However, keep in mind that your eligibility is not a guarantee from year to year, especially if you have a change in any of the eligibility requirements.

To fill out the FAFSA, you will need the following documents or other information:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Alien Registration Number (if you are not a U.S. citizen)
  • Your federal income tax returns. You may import these online to save time.
  • Bank statements and other financial records
  • An FSA ID to sign the forms electronically. You can get an FSA ID at https://fsaid.ed.gov/npas/index.htm.

How Will You Receive Your Pell Grant?

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You will receive a financial aid award letter via mail, and if you provided an email address, you might also receive a copy to that address. After you receive your award letter, your college or university will disburse the Pell Grant funds to cover your tuition and other school fees. They can also pay you directly from the funds. If they apply the funds to your school fees and tuition and you have money left over, they will send you the rest or direct deposit it into your account.

Conclusion

happy graduate

When it comes down to it, attending college can be quite the intimidating experience.  Choosing a school, a program of study, and determining how you will pay for it all are all big decisions you must make. Student loans, scholarships, Pell Grants, and more all offer options for paying for college, but student loans can saddle you with debt and scholarships aren't always abundant, especially for those who don't have stellar academics. If you want to attend college, but need help to pay for it, Pell Grants are a great option to consider.

Before applying, though, determine if you qualify - do you have a significant financial need? Are you able to maintain your grades and attendance? Can you complete your courses? Are you a United States Citizen with a clean arrest record? If so, you probably qualify! The hardest thing about this option is determining how to apply for Pell Grant, but you now know more about the process, so that should make it easier for you.

First, fill out a FAFSA application and let the United States Government determine if you are eligible for a Pell Grant. They will take into consideration your family's finances, financial obligations, the number of people in your family, and the number of people attending college in the same year. If you are eligible based on the government's calculations, you will receive an award letter outlining the amount of money it will give you per year. That money will go directly to your school, which will apply it to pay for your school tuition and other fees. 

As long as you uphold your end of the agreement and stay enrolled full time, you won't have to pay back the Pell Grant, making it a great option for those who don't want to take on a lot of debt to get an education.

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