Pell Grant FAQ

Written by Michael Bennet

Most students have a wide range of questions in regard to the Pell Grant when they first hear about its availability.

The following contains answers to some of the more common questions about the Pell Grant, and while not meant to be comprehensive, this Pell Grant FAQ was created in the hope of providing answers to some of the more prevalent questions about this award.

What is a Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant is a federal education grant that was designed to provide financial aid to students who demonstrate a high financial need for money to attend college. It was originated in 1972, and was named after the Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell. It has undergone several amendments since its inception, and it is mostly geared towards providing aid to undergraduate students, although some graduate programs do qualify.

How do I become eligible for the Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant is geared towards providing aid to students with a high financial need for money to attend college, and you therefore must be able to demonstrate such need before you will be able to gain a positive Pell Grant eligibility status. Your need is evaluated by the Department of Education according to your household income, along with several other factors, and is exhibited via your EFC once you fill out a FAFSA.

There are other requirements besides need that you must satisfy if you want to become eligible for the Pell Grant, and most of these are similar to the qualifications that are in place for other kinds of federal aid.

How do I apply for a Pell Grant?

You apply for a Pell Grant via the FAFSA. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the government’s universal application for federal student aid, and by filling one out by the appropriate deadlines, and in a correct manner, you will be put into contention for the Pell Grant.

How much aid can I receive from the Pell Grant?

You can receive up to 5,645 dollars per full academic year from the Pell Grant.

What are the important deadlines I need to know about?

The Pell Grant is a form of federal student aid, and it therefore abides by many of the requirements that are in existence for all types of federal aid. You therefore need to pay attention to the deadlines that are relevant in regard to your FAFSA submission.

The earliest you can submit a FAFSA for a conventional academic year is January first, and the latest you are able to submit one is set at June 30. Most financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis, and you should therefore submit your FAFSA as early as you possibly can if you want to maximize your ability to get the most Pell Grant aid you can for any particular award year.

What is the FAFSA?

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is the government’s universal application for federal student aid, and by filling one out by the appropriate deadlines you will not only be into contention for the Pell Grant, but for other types of federal aid as well, including federal student loans.

The FAFSA is the official Pell Grant application, and there is no separate, independent application that exists solely for the Pell Grant program.

What is EFC?

EFC stands for expected family contribution, and it is the prime indicator the government uses to evaluate your financial need for federal aid. It is based upon several factors, with the most important one having to do with your household income.

The maximum EFC cutoff threshold for the 2013-2014 Pell Grant is set at 5,081, and the lower your EFC is, the better your chances are at receiving the full Pell Grant amount.

What is SAR?

SAR stands for Student Aid Report, and it is the report that is generated upon the successful submission of your FAFSA.

Within your SAR you should be able to review the information that you provided during the completion of your FAFSA, your EFC, your Pell Grant eligibility status, as well as other pertinent information in regard to receiving federal aid.

What is CoA?

CoA is an abbreviation that many financial aid people use that stands for cost of attendance. It is simply the standard cost of going to a particular postsecondary institution, and it may, or may not include the costs that are associated with living on campus.

How can I get the maximum Pell Grant amount?

To get the maximum Pell Grant amount you need to demonstrate a very high financial need, and you therefore need to have a very low EFC value.

Having an EFC of zero, or close to it, will almost guarantee that you will get the full amount, although there are other factors at play, such as the cost of attendance of going to your college, and your enrollment status.

Will the number of credits I take for a particular semester affect my Pell Grant aid?

The Pell Grant amount you are eligible to receive for any particular semester will be fractionally prorated once you fall below what is considered to be a full-time enrollment status. The number of credits you take can therefore have a very dramatic effect on the actual amount you are able to receive if you are not taking a full schedule, and because of various new reforms, you can receive Pell Grant aid even if you are enrolled on what is considered to be a less-than-halftime basis.

Do I have to payback the money I receive from the Pell Grant?

Under normal circumstances, no, you do not have to payback the funding you receive as a result of the Pell Grant. Be careful though, as you may have to return your Pell Grant aid if you withdraw from classes too early, or if you weren’t supposed to get the Pell Grant in the first place.

While these instances are rare, you can have what is called a Pell Overpayment attached to your record if you don’t return your Pell Grant money when you were supposed to, and having this mark on your profile will prevent you from receiving any sort of future federal student aid.

Where can I apply for the Pell Grant?

You must fill out, and submit a FAFSA to apply for a Pell Grant, and you can do so by completing one online at the website fafsa.ed.gov, or by filling out its written form. If you choose to fill out a written FAFSA, you can obtain a copy by calling the phone number 1-800-4-FED-AID, or by requesting one from your school’s financial aid office.

Can I use my Pell Grant money in combination with other kinds of financial aid?

Yes, you can use your Pell Grant aid in combination with other types of aid you receive. The primary exception is if you’re receiving a full scholarship for a particular award year, as this will make you ineligible for the Pell Grant.

How long has the Pell Grant been in existence?

The Pell Grant has been around ever since 1972, although it was renamed the Pell Grant in 1980 in honor of the Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell.

What is a Pell Overpayment?

A Pell Overpayment is a technical term that is used to refer to a situation where a particular student may have received Pell Grant aid when they weren’t supposed to. If the student doesn’t payback the funds they received this mark will remain on their record, and it may prevent them from receiving any sort of federal student aid going forward.

Can I still get a Pell Grant if I have defaulted on other kinds of federal aid?

Maybe, defaulting on federal student loans is a serious situation, and because your eligibility for federal student aid is highly correlated with your eligibility for the Pell Grant, it is very likely that until you resolve such a default you will not be eligible to receive the Pell Grant.

What income levels will make me eligible for the Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant is mostly based off of financial need, and therefore the lower your household income is, the better your chances are at receiving a substantial amount of aid via the Pell Grant.

To give you a general idea of the kind of income levels that are necessary to secure Pell Grant funding, most awards are given to students with household incomes that are lower than 23,000 dollars per year, and hardly any grants are given to students who may have a household income that is above 60,000 dollars per year.

What if I withdraw from classes after I have received a Pell Grant award?

You may have to repay the funds you received from the Pell Grant if you drop out of school. This will be heavily dependent on how your Pell Grant aid was disbursed to you. If it was allocated towards your tuition, or other education related expenses by your college upon reception, and was never accessed by you directly, you will most likely not have to payback anything.

If you received a direct cash advance, or if you somehow accessed your Pell Grant aid via another mechanism, you may have to payback the money you received. Contact your financial aid department if you ever think that this may in-fact be a possibility, as they will be able to provide you with answers that are relevant to the policies that your school abides by.

Will my academic performance affect my Pell Grant eligibility?

Yes, maintaining satisfactory academic performance is a requirement to remain eligible for the Pell Grant. Your profile will actually be reviewed on a semester-by-semester basis by some institutions, and if you weren’t able to meet your particular school’s guidelines in terms of satisfactory academic progress, your Pell Grant aid might actually be held back for the upcoming semester.

How long can I receive the Pell Grant for?

Most students are eligible for 18 semesters of Pell Grant aid, although the postsecondary institution being attended will have its own policies with regard to the the length of time a student may still be able to qualify.

How will I know if I’m eligible for the Pell Grant?

You will know your eligibility status for the Pell Grant once you have successfully completed, and submitted a FAFSA. Just because you are eligible for the Pell Grant doesn’t mean that you’ll receive the full amount though, as most students who are eligible end up receiving about half of the maximum amount for that award year.

How will I know how much aid I will be receiving from the Pell Grant?

Your school will notify you via an award letter at some point after you have submitted a FAFSA for the upcoming academic term. Within this award letter will not only be a revealing of the amount of Pell Grant aid you may have been allocated, as it should also contain a detailing of the various other kinds of aid you may have been able to secure for that school year.

Can I still get the Pell Grant if my parents make a lot of money?

Yes, if you are considered to be an independent by the Department of Education, and you filled out your FAFSA accordingly, your parents income will not be part of the equation that determines your EFC, and you will therefore have a very good chance at receiving a Pell Grant.

You still may have a chance at getting a Pell Grant even if your parents make a lot of money, as this will of course depend on their exact incomes, and your ability to have an EFC value that is below the appropriate maximum cutoff threshold for that particular award year.