A file label for Grants that contains Pell Grant applications.

What Is The Pell Grant?

College can be quite costly, but thanks to grants and scholarships, it can be less of a hassle for many students. The Federal Pell Grant provides money for students who need it to pay for their college studies. The Pell Grant is limited to students with demonstrated financial need, who are working towards their first bachelor's degree, or those students who are not enrolled in certain post-baccalaureate programs, through participating educational institutions. Pell Grants are named after Claiborne Pell, a Democratic U.S. Senator of Rhode Island, being originally known as a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. It is generally considered the basic foundation of the student financial aid package.

To qualify for the Pell Grant, each applicant must:

  • Be an undergraduate student who has not yet earned an undergraduate degree.
  • A U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  • Have a high school diploma or a GED or be able to demonstrate the ability to benefit from the grant.
  • Sign a statement confirming that they will only use the financial aid for education-related purposes, that they are not currently in default for federal student loans, and that they don't owe any refunds for a federal education grant.
  • Students must also maintain satisfactory progress in a degree-oriented program, as defined by their school.
  • Males between the age of 18 and 25 must be registered with the Selective Service.

Just as the case with all grants, there is a maximum amount that the government funds for each applicant of the Pell Grant. The maximum award amount was $5,645 for the award years between 2010 and 2014. For the 2014-2015 award year, the maximum amount has increased to $5,730. The maximum amount typically depends on the EFC and a number of other factors such as whether it is a full academic year, the amount of time the student plans to attend college, and whether the student is attending school on a full-time or part-time basis.

Once one has been verified as eligible, there are a couple of ways they can obtain the money. First, the student’s school can apply Pell Grant funds to school costs, pay the student directly, usually by check, or a combination of these methods. The school must inform the student in writing how much the award will be and when and how it will be paid, disbursing the Pell Grant funds either once a semester/term or twice during the school year. The college usually first applies the loan or grant money toward tuition, fees, and room and board.

Last Updated: September 22, 2014