What is a Pell Grant? America’s largest need-based student aid program.

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grant is America’s largest student aid program that provides grants to the nation's neediest students to attend college. And it does not need to be repaid.

With skyrocketing tuition, 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.

Pell Grant FAQ #

What is a Pell Grant? #

The Pell Grant is America’s largest need-based student aid program. In 2022 alone, the U.S Dept of Education handed out over $35 billion in Pell Grants to nearly 6 million students.

It is an entitlement program that provides grants of up to $7,395 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.

How does a Pell Grant work? #

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.

Starting in the 2024—25 academic year, the Expected Family Contribution is being eliminated in favor of a new Student Aid Index. The SAI, unlike the EFC, may be a negative number, with the lowest possible amount of -1,500.

Essentially, students with an SAI between $0 and -$1,500 will qualify for the maximum Pell Grant, which is $7,395 for the 2023—2024 school year.

The new formula for determining a student’s Pell Grant eligibility, called the Student Aid Index (SAI), is simpler and more accurate than the previous one.

The new formula expands eligibility for maximum Pell Grant award to students with family incomes:

  • less than or equal to 175% of the poverty line, or
  • less than or equal to 225% of the poverty line for single parent.

What is the maximum Pell Grant for 2023—2024? #

  • Academic Year Maximum Amount
  • 2022—2023 $6,895
  • 2023—2024 $7,395

The maximum Federal Pell Grant for the 2023—2024 award year (July 1, 2023, through June 30, 2024) is $7,395, 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 $750.

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 $27,000 or less, you automatically qualify for an EFC of $0 and be eligible for maximum award. If your EFC is greater than 6,656, you are NOT eligible for any aid.

Federal Student Aid (FSA) recently released a series of Pell Look-Up Tables to help students better understand their likely Pell Grant award in advance of applying to college.

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 6,656 will result in no aid at all.

How do I apply for Pell Grant? #

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 and 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.

To be considered for a Pell Grant, you must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online at StudentAid.gov for each year you attend school.

The deadline for filling the application form is June 30 each year.

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.

How do I know if I received a Pell Grant? #

If you're unsure whether you received a Pell Grant as part of your financial aid package, you can check your account on studentaid.gov.

Once you’ve accessed your account, visit the “Aid Summary” page for all the details of your financial aid. Both your student loans and any Pell Grant awards you received will appear here.

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? #

If you are a single mother, you’ll file your FAFSA as an independent student where you will report and sign your own information. That information will determine how much aid you may be eligible to receive.

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 student 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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