What is a Federal Pell Grant?

Learn About Pell Grants, a Valuable Government College Assistance Program

What is a Pell Grant?

If you think you don't have enough money to pay for college, the U.S. government may be able to help through the Federal Pell Grant Program. Pell Grants are federal grants for low-income students. Unlike most federal assistance, these grants do not need to be paid back. Pell grants were established in 1965, and in 2020 nearly $30 billion in grant aid was available to qualifying students. For the 2021-22 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495.

Fast Facts: Federal Pell Grants

  • Only low-income students qualify for Pell Grants.
  • The maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495 per year.
  • The FAFSA determines your grant eligibility each year.
  • Pell Grants can be used for a maximum of 12 semesters or 6 years.
  • Poor grades, an increase in income, and other factors can change a students eligibility.

Who Qualifies for a Pell Grant?

Federal Pell Grant recipients are almost always undergraduate students, although it is possible to qualify for a grant for certain postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs.

To qualify for a Pell Grant, a student needs to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn what his or her expected family contribution (EFC) is. A student with a low EFC often qualifies for a Pell Grant. After submitting the FAFSA, students will be informed if they qualify for Pell Grants. There is no application specifically for a Pell Grant.

Colleges and universities must meet certain federal guidelines to be part of the Federal Pell Grant Program. Most undergraduate institutions meet these requirements, and about 5,400 institutions qualify.

In 2020 just under seven million students received Pell Grants. The federal government pays the grant money to the school, and each semester the school then pays the student either by check or by crediting the student's account.

The amount of the award depends largely upon four factors:

  • The student's financial situation
  • The cost of the school
  • The student's enrollment status (full time vs. part time)
  • The length of attendance (full year or less)

How Is a Pell Grant Paid?

Your grant money will go directly to your college, and the financial aid office will apply the money to tuition, fees, and, if applicable, room and board. If there is any money left over, the college will pay it directly to you to help cover other college expenses.

Don't Lose Your Pell Grant!

Keep in mind that being awarded a Pell Grant one year doesn't guarantee you'll qualify in subsequent years. If your family income goes up significantly, you may no longer qualify. Some other factors can also affect your eligibility:

  • If you fail to make federal student loan payments on time, you may lose your Pell Grant.
  • If you aren't making progress towards graduation at your college, you may find yourself ineligible for grant aid. The U.S. government doesn't want to invest in students who aren't taking full advantage of their academic opportunity.
  • If you are convicted of a drug offense, you may become ineligible. (and some drug offenses are also likely to get you expelled from your college)
  • If you have been in college for more than 12 semesters (6 years), you will no longer be eligible to receive a Pell Grant

Learn More About Pell Grants

Pell Grant eligibility requirements and dollar amounts change every year, so be sure to visit the Department of Education to get the latest information.

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Grove, Allen. "What is a Federal Pell Grant?" ThoughtCo, May. 28, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-pell-grant-788453. Grove, Allen. (2021, May 28). What is a Federal Pell Grant? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-pell-grant-788453 Grove, Allen. "What is a Federal Pell Grant?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-pell-grant-788453 (accessed June 5, 2023).