The $6,345 Pell Grant Program

Updated August 30, 2020

The Pell Grant program is America’s largest student aid program that provides grants of up to $6,345 to the nation neediest students to attend college. And it does not need to be repaid.


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With skyrocketing tuition, 1 one major concern for students who want to pursue higher education is how to pay for it. Not surprisingly, the burden is heaviest on students from lower-income families.

Few could afford the price tag without some form of financial aid, including grants, work-study and federally-subsidized student loans. Among those, Pell grant is the best source of free financial aid any student can receive.

For many students who completed the financial aid process — or FAFSA, Pell grant is the foundation of their financial aid package onto which other aid are added.

What is Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant program is America’s largest need-based student aid program. In 2018 alone, the U.S Dept of Education handed out over $28.2 billion in Pell Grants to nearly 7 million students. 2

It is an entitlement program that provides grants of up to $6,345 to the nation neediest students to attend college. Grants are awarded on a sliding scale based on one’s financial need — and it does not need to be repaid.

Almost any student with financial need, regardless of income, are entitled to apply. But how how much you’re eligible to receive hinges upon 2 factors:

  1. How much you’re expected pay out of your own pocket — taking into account your asset & income.
  2. The cost of attendance at your college — tuition, fees, room and board, books, etc.

Other factors that determine your Pell Grant eligibility include the amount of time you attend college (whether you are a full time or part time student) and the number of semesters you will attend.

How Do I Apply for Pell Grant?

To be considered for a Pell Grant, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online at The deadline for filling the application form is June 30 each year.

The U.S. Department of Education uses a standard formula to evaluate the information you provide on your FAFSA. This formula produces a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which determines how much aid you’re eligible.

What it actually means is the lower your EFC, the more financial aid you’ll be awarded. The best case scenario is to get a Zero EFC for maximum aid eligibility.

Pell Grant FAQ

  • What is the maximum Pell Grant for 2020—21?

    The maximum Federal Pell Grant for the 2020—21 award year (July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021) is $6,345 but your actual award amount depends on your financial need, cost of attendance and enrollment status.

    The minimum award amount for a full- time undergraduate student is $639.

  • What is the maximum income to qualify for a Pell Grant?

    Students whose total family income is $49,999 a year or less qualify, but most Pell grant money goes to students whose families makes less than $30,000 annually.

    If your family’s income is $26,000 or less, you automatically qualify for an EFC of $0 and be eligible for maximum award. 3 If your EFC is greater than 5,711, you are NOT eligible for any aid.

  • What EFC qualifies for Pell Grant?

    EFC is a measure of how much money you are expected to contribute to your college education for one academic year. That is, the lower your EFC, the more financial aid you’ll be awarded.

    An EFC of $0 means that you have no ability to pay for college, as such, you’re eligible to receive maximum award, while a number over 5,711 will result in no aid at all. 4

  • How much does a Pell grant pay per semester?

    If you qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, your total award for the year will be split between semesters during each school year. Some students are eligible to receive up to 150% of their award, to be applied to the summer semester.

    For example, if you’re eligible for $3,000, you will receive $1,500 for fall semester, $1,500 for spring semester, plus a possible $1,500 for the summer semester.

  • Is there a limit on Pell Grants?

    Yes, but how much Pell Grant you can get in a lifetime is based on years, not dollars and is limited by federal law.

    Lifetime eligibility is 12 semesters, or the equivalent. Since the amount of a scheduled Pell Grant award you can receive each award year is equal to 100%, the six-year equivalent is 600%.

    If you have exceeded the 12-semester maximum or your Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) equals or exceeds 600%, you may no longer receive Pell Grant funding.

  • How much Pell Grant do you get for summer classes?

    Beginning with the summer of 2018, you may be eligible to receive a summer Pell Grant award, known sometimes as Year-Round Pell. Other than half-time enrollment (6+ credits), there are no special eligibility criteria for Year-Round Pell.

    As long as the lifetime eligibility limit has not been reached, you can receive up to 150% of your scheduled Pell award each year, the equivalent of 3 full-time semesters of Pell Grant funding.

  • What happens to unused Pell Grant money?

    Few students receive Pell Grant money beyond tuition and fees. However, if the amount of your Pell Grant is more than the cost of your tuition, the school will refund any unused money to you.

    Be aware, however, that any portion of leftover Pell grant money that is not spent on “qualified education expenses” will be considered as taxable income.

  • How do single mothers get Pell Grants?

    Nearly every student who completed the FAFSA is eligible for some type of federal student aid. As far as Pell grant is concerned, the steps are pretty much the same for single mothers as for other students.

    If you are of 24 year of age and file as an independent student, you might even qualify for more financial aid than you would as a dependent student.

Although the Pell award isn’t exactly a princely sum, it does make college possible for many low-income single moms who couldn’t otherwise afford the rising cost of going to back college.

However, as the cost of college outpacing the availability of aid, more students than ever are relying on federal loans and private student loans to help pay their way through college.

Unlike grants, these loans are “borrowed money” you must repay with interest upon graduation, including very-low-rate Perkins and “subsidized” and “unsubsidized” Stafford loans.

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  1. CollegeBoard, Tuition and Fee and Room and Board Charges over Time, 1973-74 through 2013-14()
  2. CollegeBoard, Trends in Student Aid 2019()
  3. Federal Student Aid, EFC Formula Guide()
  4. FSA, 2019-2020 Federal Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedules()