How to Apply for a Pell Grant

Written by Michael Bennet

Knowing how to apply for a Pell Grant simply comes down to filling out the FAFSA, as this is the official Pell Grant application that will not only make you eligible for the Pell, but for other kinds of federal student aid as well.

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the universal application for federal aid that the government makes available to students from across the nation on a yearly basis.

You must fill out a FAFSA for each academic year that you plan on attending a postsecondary institution if you want to gain a positive Pell Grant eligibility status, and to qualify for other sorts of federal aid, although you can transfer much of the information that you may have provided during the previous year’s application to the current FAFSA form you are completing if you decide to fill out the online version.

Accessing the FAFSA and Getting Your PIN

The FAFSA form can be filled out either online, or via its written version. Completing one online makes the entire process much simpler and more efficient, and it is recommended that you take advantage of your ability to submit one via the Internet whenever that is a feasible option.

If you decide to fill out a hard-copy of the form for whatever reason, you can obtain a copy from your school’s financial aid department, by calling the phone number 1-800-4-FED-AID, by requesting one be sent to you at fafsa.ed.gov, or by printing one out at the website federalstudentaid.ed.gov.

If you decide to complete the process entirely online you can fill out the online form at fafsa.ed.gov. Before you will be able to electronically sign, and successfully submit your online FAFSA you will need to obtain your PIN.

Your PIN is simply a number that the government uses to verify your identification, and it acts as an official personal seal when you provide your electronic signature during the completion of your FAFSA. You can obtain your PIN by going to the website pin.ed.gov by following the appropriate instructions, or by following the correct link that is found at fafsa.ed.gov.

The Eligibility Requirements for Federal Student Aid

Not everyone is able to qualify for federal student aid, and it is important to go over the appropriate Pell Grant eligibility requirements before you go ahead and begin to complete a FAFSA.

There aren’t too many of these, although it is important that you are able to satisfy each one in order to benefit from filling out a FAFSA.

  • You must have a valid social security number
  • You must be U.S. citizen, or eligible Non-citizen
  • You must be able to demonstrate that you’ll be able to benefit from your postsecondary education via a high school diploma, GED, or other method, such as being able to pass an “ability to benefit” test.
  • You must be making satisfactory academic progress in a degree-oriented program at a participating institution
  • If you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must be registered with the Selective Service
  • You may be disqualified from receiving federal student aid if you have been convicted of selling illegal drugs
  • You must be willing to sign a statement that will certify that you will only use your federal aid towards education-related expenses.

Once you are able to satisfy this brief list of eligibility requirements, you will most likely be able to qualify for federal aid, and thus be ready to apply for a Pell Grant.

Critical Documentation and Information to Have By Your Side

Now that you think that you may be eligible to benefit from federal student aid, it is important to understand that you will need a variety of pertinent information, and documentation to complete the FAFSA. It is of course a smart move to gather these documents, and locate such information before you actually go ahead and begin filling out your application, as this can make the entire process go by much faster.

The following is an accounting of the most important information and relevant documentation that you will need to have close by when completing the FAFSA.

  • School codes for each institution you plan on applying to
  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license
  • Alien registration card, or permanent resident card if not a U.S. citizen
  • Tax returns and W-2 forms
  • Parent’s tax documents if still a dependent
  • Spouse’s tax documents if married
  • Current untaxed income statements (such as welfare, and veteran’s benefits)
  • Bank statements
  • Investment records and statements
  • Mortgage information
  • Business and farm documentation

FAFSA Sections

The FAFSA contains seven major sections, and each serves a general purpose and sequesters certain kind of information. You will have to proceed through each of these in the specific order they are presented to you, unless you are completing a written FAFSA, as the online version will prevent you from moving forward until you complete the previous section.

1-Personal Information: Here you will have to provide basic personal information such as your name, social security number, date of birth, and current address. You will also have to answer questions to determine your eligibility for federal student aid, including inquiries about your citizenship, your academic progression as a college student, and whether or not you have been convicted of selling illegal drugs.

2-School Selection: Here you will have to provide up to ten schools that you are interested in applying to. You will also have to choose your housing plan, enrollment status, and whether or not you want to be considered for both work-study, and federal student loan programs.

3-Dependency Status: Here you will have to answer a series of questions that will determine your dependency status. Answering “yes” to any of the following questions will result in a status of independent for that academic year.

  • Will you be 24 years old or older at some point during the next school year?
  • Will you begin work in a master’s, or doctorate program at the start of the school year?
  • Are you married on the date you are filing your FAFSA?
  • Are you currently serving on active duty in the U.S. armed forces for purposes other than training?
  • Are you a veteran of the U.S. armed forces?

4-Parent Information: In this section you will have to provide various types of basic personal information about your parents and household. These include, but are not limited to their names, marital status, and social security numbers. You will also have to state the size of your household, and the number of family-members who will be attending college for the following school year.

5-Financial Information: Here you will have to provide financial information about yourself, and your parents if you are still considered to be a dependent. Most of the questions will either have to do with your current income, your tax returns, or your assets.

6-Application Review and Submission: Upon completing the financial section, you will then be taken to the review page, where you will be able to print out a copy of the completed application you just filled out. You will then have to provide your social security number and PIN. Next you will have to agree to a legal declaration that will confirm that all of the data you provided is truthful, and accurate, and that you will use the federal aid you receive for only education-related purposes. The final thing you have to do is click “submit” to officially submit your application

7-Confirmation: You will then be brought to a confirmation page that will contain a random confirmation number, and data release number. Congratulations! You have successfully completed the official Pell Grant application, and have made yourself eligible for a wide variety of federal student aid at the same time.

The SAR, Your Financial Aid Package, and Critical Deadlines

An SAR, or Student Aid Report will be generated upon completion of your FAFSA. This report will be sent to you either via email, or regular mail within 2-3 weeks if you completed the online version, and between 4-6 weeks if you completed the paper form.

The SAR should contain a detailing of all the information that you provided during the completion of your FAFSA, your EFC value, as well as your eligibility status for federal student aid, and the Pell Grant. It is important to review your SAR for errors as soon as it is sent to you

Once you have received your SAR, and have examined it to ensure that you accurately completed your FAFSA, you will then have to wait to receive your financial aid package from the school that you will be attending in the fall. Your school will send this award package to you typically a few months after you have completed the FAFSA, and within it will be a detailing of the variety of federal aid that you were able to qualify for, including the Pell Grant.

You will then have to accept, or decline each award that is listed by sending back the appropriate response letter to your college before you begin classes for the upcoming school year.

That sums up applying for a Pell Grant via the FAFSA, and make sure that you apply as early as possible if you want to maximize your ability of getting the most financial aid you can for the upcoming school year. The earliest you can go ahead and fill out a FAFSA is January 1, and the latest you can submit one is set at June 30.

The early bird gets the worm when it comes to financial aid, so do your best to complete the FAFSA as soon as the new year comes about. Knowing how to apply for a Pell Grant is really this simple, and if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to contact your college’s financial aid department.