Pell Grant Requirements 101: Your Guide to This Free Financial Aid

pell grant requirementsAfraid you won’t be able to go to college because of a lack of funding? It’s time to give the Pell Grant a look.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Pell Grant has been the “single largest source of grants for postsecondary education” in the past 40 years. And the Department of Education estimates that 7.3 million students will be awarded the Pell Grant in 2018, for a total of $28.8 billion in aid.

Read on to find out what you need to know about Pell Grant requirements, Pell Grant income limits, and how to apply for a Pell Grant. Don’t miss this opportunity to get free financial aid.

Pell Grant 101

The Pell Grant emerged in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. It was later renamed for Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell. Its main purpose? To bring the dream of college into reach for students who could never have afforded it otherwise.

Pell Grant requirements

There aren’t a whole lot of Pell Grant requirements to keep in mind. You simply need to be a student seeking an undergraduate degree and not incarcerated for a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense. You can receive this grant as a graduate student only if you’re working towards a post-baccalaureate teaching certificate.

There is a maximum lifetime usage for this grant, with a limit of 12 semesters of aid. The most you can receive in a year changes annually, but in 2017 it’s $5,920.

Since this is a grant, not a loan, it’s free money for those who are eligible. You will only need to repay it if you withdraw from school early, if outside scholarships or grants cover your costs, or if your enrollment status changes and reduces your eligibility for the grant.

The final reason you would need to repay the funds from a Pell Grant is if you mistakenly receive more money than you were eligible for. Known as “overpayment,” you pay the overage back to your school or set up a payment plan to do so within 45 days of notice.

Pell Grant income limits

Since your ability to afford college is the basis of the Pell Grant, family income level is a major factor. There isn’t a national Pell Grant income limit to worry about. The amount you’re awarded will depend on your expected family contribution (EFC), as well as your school’s income limit.

EFC is the idea that your parents will contribute some portion of their income and assets to your education. There are multiple formulas for calculating your EFC, but you can easily see what yours might be by using this calculator from the Department of Education, called the FAFSA4caster.

So what happens if you use this calculator and your parent’s income renders you ineligible — but they don’t have the intent or ability to pay for your schooling? Unfortunately, the only way you cannot include your parents’ income is if you’re considered “independent.” Here is a worksheet that helps you see if you qualify as an independent.

It’s important to note that living separately from your parents doesn’t designate you as independent in the eyes of federal funding for school. And neither does your parents not claiming you as a dependent on their tax forms.

How to apply for a Pell Grant

Now, on to the easy part: how to apply for a Pell Grant. It’s advised to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year from your senior year of high school until your junior year of college. This application puts you in the running for federal loans, work-study programs, and grants — including the Pell Grant.

Best of all, it’s free. So even if you think you won’t qualify for the Pell Grant or other federal aid, you lose absolutely nothing by trying.

The application becomes available in October each year, and you fill it out for funding for the next academic year. There are three different deadlines for the FAFSA. A good rule of thumb is to fill it out as soon as possible to maximize the funding you receive — when it comes to FAFSA, awards are first come, first served.

After you apply, you’ll receive a student aid report. Review it to make sure that the information on your FAFSA is correct. The next thing to come will be an award letter from your college detailing how much aid you’ll receive. The letter will also let you know if you qualify for the Pell Grant.

Children of servicemembers could be eligible for more aid

If you’re a child of a servicemember killed in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, then you might be eligible for additional funds from the Pell Grant.

It is, however, required that you were younger than 24 when your parent or guardian died and currently enrolled part-time or full-time in a college or a career school. According to Federal Student Aid, if you meet these requirements and are otherwise eligible for a Pell Grant, your EFC will be zero. This can help you become eligible for more Pell Grant funds.

On the other hand, if you’re unable to get funding through the Pell Grant, you can try for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The same eligibility criteria apply and you would be in the running for this by simply filling out your FAFSA. This grant did match the funding maximum of the Pell Grant, but federal budget cuts reduced the maximum amount for 2017 to $5,529.28.

Final quick tips about the Pell Grant

So, what do you need to know about Pell Grant requirements and other facts right now?

Here are a few quick pointers to keep in mind.

  • The Pell Grant is free aid for college — it doesn’t have to be repaid.
  • It’s free to apply for the Pell Grant, which you can do by submitting your FAFSA.
  • The maximum Pell Grant amount for the academic year 2017-2018 is $5,920.
  • You can only use the Pell Grant for one school at a time.
  • The Pell Grant won’t affect the amount of other federal financial aid available to you.
  • Children of servicemembers who died in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 might be able to receive more Pell Grant funding.
  • Your school will disburse any federal aid you receive, including the Pell Grant.
  • Any funds left over from the grant after paying for tuition, fees, and room and board (if applicable) is then disbursed directly to you.

Remember, even if you think you don’t qualify for the Pell Grant, fill out your FAFSA anyway. It’s free and it puts you in the running for all types of federal aid. Of all the Pell Grant requirements to know, this is the most important one: You can’t receive any funding from this grant if you don’t fill out your FAFSA.