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What is a Pell Grant and am I Eligible?

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If you’re heading to university in the US this year, you might be applying for financial aid to help combat those high tuition fees at US universities.

If so, you’ll probably have heard of the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant a popular form of financial aid, since it’s free and provided by the government to help pay for college tuition, alongside any other scholarships and grants. The best part is that you won’t have to pay it back!

But what exactly is the Pell Grant, who can benefit from it and how do you apply for it? Read on to find out everything you need to know about the Pell Grant.

What is a Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant is a form of financial aid provided by the government for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need. It’s currently the largest grant offered by the US Department of Education to undergraduate students, and for this reason, is very popular.

The grant was created in 1972 and was named after US Senator, Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, who was the chief sponsor of the program. It was designed to help students from low income background attend university.

How much money will I receive from a Pell Grant?

The amount of money a student will receive from the Pell Grant varies year by year and is set by the US Department of Education. In 2020-21, the maximum amount a student can receive each year is US$6,345, but this amount is dependent on your circumstances and can vary.

You can apply for a Pell Grant for up to six years, but it’s worth noting that you’ll have to re-apply for the grant each year to prove that your family’s financial situation hasn’t changed and that you’re still eligible.

Who’s eligible for a Pell Grant?

Eligibility for the Pell Grant is based almost entirely on financial need. However, there are other criteria you need to meet to get access to the grant. 

To be eligible for the grant you’ll need to:

  • Meet the financial requirements: Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is based on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), will determine your eligibility for the grant. To meet the requirements, your EFC must fall below a certain point.

  • Be a US citizen

  • Have finished high school or equivalent: You need to be a high school graduate, hold a GED, or have completed an approved home-school regime.

  • Be enrolled in an eligible degree program: You’ll need to be enrolled in a full-time undergraduate degree in the US.

  • Attend an approved higher education institution in the US: There are over 5,400 approved institutions, so check to see if yours is included.

  • Not have a criminal record

How to apply for a Pell Grant

To apply for a Pell Grant, you’ll first need to make sure you meet the criteria. Then you’ll be required to fill in the FAFSA form, which is free to fill out. The US Department of Education will then decide your eligibility for the Pell Grant by calculating your EFC based on the answers you gave.

Students can complete the FAFSA any time after October 1st, but the aid is awarded on a first come, first served basis – so don’t leave it too long to apply!

Pell Grant aid disbursement

Once you’ve filled in your FAFSA, you’ll receive financial aid offers from universities, which will include grants and scholarships you’re eligible for, as well as any federal student loans.

If you’re eligible for the Pell Grant, you can either apply the grant to your tuition fees, or get the money sent directly to you, or a combination of the two.

Do you need to pay back the Pell Grant aid?

A federal Pell Grant does not need to be repaid, as it is a grant, not a loan. However, there may be some exceptional circumstances where the grant will have to be repaid. 

Here’s when you might have to repay your grant:

  • If you drop out of the program the grant was given to you for
  • If you change from a full-time degree program to a part-time program, you will no longer be eligible for the grant.
  • You have also received other grants or scholarships which reduced your need for federal financial aid.

If you fit into one of these categories, your school will notify you and you’ll then be given 45 days to repay your Pell Grant.

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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