Pell Grants

Pell Grants are funded by the Federal government and distributed to help pay for college expenses, including tuition and room and board. Considered to be the foundation of Federal financial aid, these grants are awarded to undergraduate students who don’t hold a bachelor’s or professional degree and are in proven financial need.

The History of the Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is named after U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, who strongly supported offering free money to students in financial need who wanted access to higher educational opportunities. Covered by the Higher Education Act of 1965, the grant was originally known as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program.

The idea of the program was to target students from lower-income families who could not pay for college. The grants were designed to require no repayment and were offered to students based on a “financial need” formula, later known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

In addition to providing opportunities for higher education, Pell Grants are known for being a way to enhance enrollment and indicate economic diversity of college student bodies.

Who is Eligible for Pell Grants?

The eligibility requirements for students who want to obtain a Pell Grant are uniform for all undergraduates. All students must:

  • Be undergraduates who have not earned a bachelor’s degree.
  • Be U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens.
  • Have a high school diploma or GED, or demonstrate the ability to benefit from the program.

Also, in order to qualify, students must exhibit financial need by providing information on their family’s income, savings and other assets. The eligibility will then be determined by the Pell Grant’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) formula.

Currently, students are only eligible for Pell Grants for 18 semesters, or their equivalent, if the first one was received after July 1, 2008. Also, students may receive up to two Pell Grants in one award year if they wish to accelerate their coursework.

How Much Award Money is Available?

The amount of Pell Grant money available for distribution typically varies from year to year. Also, it depends on how the student’s EFC is calculated, as well as how many other students of need are applying for funds at a particular school.

For the 2010-11 school year, each student is allotted a maximum $5,500 award amount. However, students who are eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – a Pell Grant that is offered to students who had a parent serving as a member of the U.S. Armed Forced and died as a result of service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan – are given the maximum amount.

How to Apply for a Pell Grant

In order to apply for a Pell Grant, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be done via paper application (which could be acquired from the Federal Student Aid Information Center by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID) or online at

The deadline for filling out the FAFSA application is usually determined by the specific school that the student wishes to attend. However, it is usually suggested that to have access to the most financial aid options, including additional grants and student loans, it’s a good idea to fill out the FAFSA and return as soon as possible.

If students or parents are filing taxes for the year, application is usually submitted shortly after taxes have been filed. And if no taxes are being filed, it could be turned in as early as January 1 of the eligible year.

Pell Grant Distribution

School financial aid offices are usually in charge of handling the distribution of Pell Grant funds. They send out letters telling students how much their award will be, as well as how and when they will be paid.

Students who receive Pell Grant funds will then have their money distributed through the financial aid office. Schools will usually apply grant funds to school costs first then distribute the rest in a check. However, some schools issue students their checks and allow them to pay the costs on their own. Funds are issued at least once per term (semester, trimester or quarter).

Pell Grants have created educational opportunities to students who would otherwise been unable to attend a college or university. To learn more about seeking college funding through a Pell Grant, visit the FAFSA website for more information.

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