Pell grants enable undergraduate students to receive funds to attend college without having to repay the funds. Pell grants may vary in awarded amounts from year to year, and are based on your financial need.
Pell grants are the most sought-after form of Federal educational assistance, and enable a student to receive a degree without owing vast sums of money at the end of their college experience.
The maximum Pell grant award for the 2010-2011 award year is $5,550, and the minimum is $609. For 2011-2012, the minimum is slightly lower, at $555.00. Award amounts are based on the EFC, the Estimated Family Contribution amount and the COA, Cost of Attendance. In most cases you can’t receive Pell grant funds if you already have a bachelor’s or professional degree. One exception to that limitation is that you may be able to receive funds if you are a teacher, and are attending a school that does not offer a bachelor’s degree, even if you have a bachelor’s degree.
There are a number of restrictive clauses in the Pell grant language. For instance, you can receive funds up to twice a year if you attend school year-round, but only for one school. You must attend school at least half-time, and you must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree as your goal. There is an 18-semester limit for funding, you must not be in default on any other Federal student loan program, and you must enroll within ten days of the start of school (for the current semester). If you have received 100% scholarship funding, you are ineligible to apply. In addition, only one family member attending college may receive Pell grant funding.
Some of the other restrictions you should be aware of include completing at least 60% of the semester before you become eligible for 100% of the awards for that term. In addition, if you drop out of school before you have completed at least 60% of the semester, the college will be required to get a refund from you for any funds already disbursed.
The competition for Pell grants is fierce, and since funding is subject to availability of funds in the Federal budget, you should plan your Pell grant application process early. As soon as you know which college you will be attending, get in touch with the school’s financial aid officer and begin collecting all the required data well in advance. You will need the amount your family is going to contribute, as well the names of any other family members attending college.
There is a standard application form, known as a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) which can cover several types of assistance. You can access the website at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov, and fill out the form online. Your financial aid officer will help you to decide which form to submit. You should pay special attention to the deadlines, and whether they are based on the postmark (or the electronic transmittal date) or the received date.
Since meeting the eligibility requirements for a Pell grant are conditions for applying for other types of Federal student grants and loans, you should complete the application process, even if the amount you will receive seems small, or you are eventually disqualified from receiving Pell grant funds due to excessive ECF. In some cases, you may be required to show that you applied, but were turned down for funds, in order to apply for other programs.