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For many, college is the first step into the real world. It is the bridge between adolescence and adulthood that prepares you for your career, life, and so much more. College is a time of self-exploration, growth, and a lot of learning, in and out of the classroom. But before you even get to university, you have to make certain you can afford it. Fortunately, there are scholarships, loans, and Pell Grants that can help you cover tuition and other expenses. But what is a Pell Grant, and how can you apply for one?

What Is a Pell Grant?

Federal grants and loans are among the most common forms of financial aid that students seek. This type of student aid comes from the federal government and can be combined with scholarships, other grants, and other types of loans. So exactly what is a Pell Grant?

Simply put, federal Pell Grants are a source of financing for college students. They are usually awarded to students of good standing who express a financial need. Unlike a loan, a federal Pell Grant does not have to be repaid. That is one of the major benefits to Pell Grants over student loans.

The amount of aid you receive typically depends on the cost of your tuition and financial need. Pell Grants help millions of students pay for and attend college. In fact, the Institute for College Access and Success estimates that Pell Grants aid more than seven million students who need help paying tuition. Without this type of assistance, many would not be able to pay for college.

Another way to answer the question of what is a Pell Grant is this: for many, it’s the chance to pursue an education they otherwise would not be able to afford.

What Are the Qualifications?

As mentioned above, Pell Grants are typically awarded to students who have a financial need for them. In order to qualify for a Pell Grant, you must not have completed your bachelor’s degree, although those going into certain post-baccalaureate programs such as a teaching certification are eligible. Prospective students must also be a US citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a GED or diploma, and be enrolled or accepted into a qualifying degree or certificate program.

Keep in mind that not all schools participate in this form of financial aid. Before applying, a prospective student should ensure that the school they plan on attending does accept Pell Grants. Though some 


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schools do not participate, it is estimated that some 6,600 colleges and universities do.

Again, to be eligible for a Pell Grant you must meet the following qualifications:

  • Be of financial need
  • Be an undergraduate who has not earned a bachelor’s degree or be enrolled in an eligible program
  • Be enrolled/ accepted as a regular student
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen
  • Attend a school that accepts federal financial aid
  • Have not been convicted of a drug-related offense
  • Are not subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense

The last two qualifications may not completely disqualify you for a Pell Grant; however, your eligibility may be limited.

How Much Money Can You Receive?

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The max amount of money one can receive from a federal Pell Grant changes yearly; however, from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, the max amount of aid is $6,095. The amount of aid you receive depends on your status as either a full or part-time student, the cost of your tuition, your expected family contribution to your tuition, and whether you plan on attending school for a full academic year. If for any reason you are attending multiple schools, you can only receive Pell Grant funds for one college.

Students whose family income is less than $50,000 qualify for grants. Typically though, students who come from a household with an income less than $20,000 receive the most aid. One way of answering the question of what is a Pell Grant is to say it’s a grant for those who otherwise could not afford their education.

There are exceptions where a student may receive what’s called year-round Pell or 150% of his or her Pell Grant. In these situations, the eligible students who are enrolled full-time in the spring and fall can receive funds for a summer semester as well.

To maintain your Pell Grant, you must typically remain enrolled as an undergraduate student and complete a FASFA application yearly. Keep in mind you can only receive Pell Grant funds for 12 semesters or roughly six years. However, if you get close to your limit, you will receive a notice ahead of time.

Once you earn a professional degree, bachelor’s degree, or use 12 months of your Pell Grant, you will no longer qualify for this federal aid. To determine how much Pell funding a student has used, you can visit the National Student Loan Data System website. This tool is a great way to manage your future and stay on top of your financial aid.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Pell Grant to Pay for College?

Federal grants such as Pell Grants are often called ‘gift aid’ because they are essentially free money. Unlike merit-based scholarships, federal grants help those based on their needs. Because Pell Grants do not have to be repaid as loans do, the cost of college tuition is drastically reduced for many students.

Pell grants allow millions of students to pursue higher education with less of a financial burden. As of 2017, Pell Grants can be accessed year round, even during summer semesters. This new development is already helping many students cut down on their college costs and allowing them to graduate sooner. 

Depending on the cost of your education, Pell Grants can also be used to cover other educational expenses. Federal grants can be applied to books, supplies, fees, transportation and so much more. This can potentially cover most of the college expenses for some students.

For example, If you plan on attending a community college, your grant can potentially cover both your tuition and fees. If you plan on attending a traditional university, however, a grant may only pay for 30% of the total attendance cost. While that may not sound like much, don’t discount this gift. If you have earned scholarships, a Pell Grant may cover the rest of your tuition.

Be sure to get informed on the cost of your education and be proactive beforehand to make sure you make this most of your Pell Grant.

How Do You Apply for a Pell Grant?

To apply for a Pell Grant as well as other federal and state financial aid, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. To remain eligible for federal student aid, you will have to complete this application each year. Students can request a paper FAFSA. The FAFSA website also contains information on the topic of “what is a Pell Grant” as well as other financial aid information.

The FAFSA website also provides a wide variety of tools and information about everything you need to know about financing your education. Be sure to work with your college to determine what financial aid you will receive and when. Also, make certain you know when the FAFSA and other financial aid deadlines are so you do not miss them.


Let’s Recap: What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants, often called gift grants, are a form of federal financial aid for students from an economically disadvantaged background. They are a wonderful tool that can potentially have a dramatic effect on a student’s cost of tuition. Because these grants are need-based and not merit-based, they are available to a wide variety of students. On average, Pell Grants help 7.5 million students a year. The best part is that they do not have to be repaid.

To be eligible to receive a Pell Grant, one must have either a GED or a high school diploma, be a United States citizen or an eligible non-citizen, be considered financially needy, and be enrolled or accepted into an eligible institution. Students who have been convicted of a drug-related offense or who are subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense may still qualify for a Pell Grant but their eligibility may be limited.

Grants have already helped millions to pay for a wide range of college expenses and can be used for a variety of things such as books, supplies, tuitions, fees, transportation, and so much more. As of 2017, students can use Pell Grants to pay for summer courses as well as traditional fall and spring semesters courses.

Grants are a wonderful tool, but they do have a lifespan. A student can only receive a Federal Pell Grant for six years or 12 semesters. You should be sure to understand the cost of education to make sure you make this most of this gift aid.

Students who are interested in qualifying for a grant must complete the FAFSA. This process will register them for Pell Grants and other forms of federal and state financial aid. Students should work with their college and university to learn more about financial aid and ensure that they meet all deadlines,

What is a Pell Grant? An amazing financial aid that can allow you to get an education without taking on a large amount of student loan debt. Do your research, fill out your FAFSA, and take advantage of these federal funds.

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