Understanding the Pell Grant Qualifications

Written by Michael Bennet

The Pell Grant qualifications that will allow you to become eligible for this award are fairly easy to grasp, and you first need to understand that there are two main categories of requirements that you must satisfy.

You first must be able to exhibit the appropriate level of financial need, and this is primarily evaluated by the Department of Education via your expected family contribution, or EFC.

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

The higher your EFC is, the lower your financial need will be according to the above equation. The maximum cutoff threshold for the 2013-2014 school year is now set at 5,081, and you therefore must have an EFC value below this number in order to qualify for a Pell Grant.

The closer your EFC value is to zero, the better, as this will increase your financial need, and make you eligible for a higher award amount.

Other Federal Pell Grant Qualifications

The other category of federal Pell Grant qualifications can be split up into Pell Grant specific qualifications, and general federal student aid qualifications.

The Pell Grant specific qualifications are relevant only to the Pell Grant program, while the general federal student aid qualifications pertain to all students who wish to become eligible for the variety of federal aid that is available.

The following is a quick rundown of these two types of qualifications.

Pell Grant Specific:

  • Must be enrolled as an undergraduate, and thus be pursuing your first associate’s, or bachelor’s degree. Certain postbaccalaureate programs that lead to a teacher certification, or professional licensure may still be able to qualify.
  • Cannot be incarcerated in a federal, or state penal institution.

General Federal Student Aid:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen, or eligible noncitizen.
  • Must have a valid social security number.
  • Must have a high school diploma, GED, proof of passing an “ability to benefit” test, valid homeschooling credentials, or other sort of proof that you’ll be able to benefit from your postsecondary education.
  • Must be working towards a degree-oriented program at one of the 5,400 participating institutions from across the country.
  • Must be making satisfactory academic progress as defined by your particular institution.
  • Must be registered with the selective service if male between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Must not have a conviction of selling illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid.
  • Must sign a statement that certifies that you will only use your federal student aid for education-related expenses, and that you don’t currently owe a refund for a federal grant, or are in default on a federal student loan.

Your Pell Grant Amount

Once you have met the above Pell Grant qualifications in accordance with being able to demonstrate the appropriate level of financial need you will most likely be able to qualify for a Pell Grant.

The final Pell Grant amount that you are able to receive will depend on a number of other factors, including your EFC, cost of attendance, enrollment status, and your plans to take classes over an entire academic year.

The financial aid department of the college you are attending will insert these factors into several formulas to determine your final Pell Grant amount, and they must disburse to you the entire sum of Pell Grant aid you were able to receive for any particular award year.

Keep in mind that the earlier you can submit the official federal Pell Grant application the better, as most federal aid is allocated to the students who complete their FAFSA before the last minute.