How to Get a Pell Grant When Attending University

Written by Michael Bennet

Knowing how to get a Pell Grant is critical if you want to take advantage of this marvelous financial aid instrument.

The truth is that getting a Pell Grant is really up to your ability to demonstrate to the Department of Education that you have an exceptional level of financial need, as the Pell Grant program was instituted to benefit students that come from families that may experience a significant hardship in paying for their child’s higher education.

So before we get into how to apply exactly, it is first important to go over what financial need actually is, and whether or not you may as a student have a high enough level of need that would warrant the acquisition of Pell Grant aid. Financial need is ultimately a product of the following equation:

  • Financial Need = Cost of Attendance (CoA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

It is determined by inserting various pieces of information that you provided during the submission of your FAFSA into several predefined formulas that will eventually produce the final metric. The higher your EFC is, the lower your level of financial need is, and while cost of attendance does play a role in gaining eligibility for the Pell Grant, the expected family contribution is essentially what will determine if you can qualify.

As it stands right now the maximum cutoff EFC threshold is set at 5,081, and you therefore must have an EFC below this figure in order to get a Pell Grant. Lower EFC values may result in higher award amounts, although having an EFC that is under 5,081 will automatically gain you a positive Pell Grant eligibility status provided that you satisfy the other Pell Grant specific requirements, and the general federal student aid eligibility requirements that are in place.

Remember that your EFC is based mostly on the following criteria:

  • Student’s Income (and assets if independent)
  • Parents’ Income (and assets if dependent)
  • Household Size
  • Number of Family Members Attending Postsecondary Institutions (excluding parents)

This means that the less money you, and the rest of your family make, the lower your EFC should be, and the higher your level of financial need should be. If you are now wondering to yourself, “how do I get a Pell Grant”, the clear answer is that by having the appropriate level of need you should be able to become eligible, while the actual amount of aid you then receive will then be up to your overall level of need, and in particular how close your EFC is to zero.

Applying for the Pell Grant is simple, and requires no separate application, as the FAFSA is the universal application for all types of federal student aid. Try and submit your form as early as possible after the New Year, as most federal aid is given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. The latest you can submit a FAFSA is June 30.