Pell Grant: What it is, Find Out if You're Eligible, and How to Apply

Introduction to Pell Grants

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of Pell Grants, let’s first clarify some of the basics.

What is a Pell Grant, anyways?

Pell Grants are subsidies given out by the U.S. federal government to help students from lower-income families pay for college. Unlike normal loans, Pell Grants usually do not have to be repaid.

However, there are a few reasons why your Pell Grant may have to be repaid, such as if you withdraw from your program early or if you receive outside scholarships or grants that reduce your need for federal student aid.   

Am I eligible for a Pell Grant?

The purpose of the Pell Grant is to ensure that “higher education remains accessible to all”; therefore, Pell Grant recipients must prove that they fall into a specified level of financial need.

To determine your level of financial need, you will be required to fill out the FAFSA (free application for student financial aid). For reference, the FAFSA should get filled out the first time when you are a high school senior, and you must reapply for every year you are enrolled in college in order to receive funds. 

The process of filling out the FAFSA will then determine your eligibility for the grant.

Generally, the majority of Pell Grant recipients come from households with total incomes of less than $25,000 per year.   

How much can I expect to receive from my Pell Grant?

The amount of the grant can vary from year to year; for the 2020-2021 year (July 1, 2020 - June 30, 2021), the maximum amount any student can receive is $6,345.

According to, the amount you can expect to receive depends on a number of factors, such as:

  1. Expected family contribution
  2. Cost of attendance for your particular college/university 
  3. Whether you are a full-time or part-time student
  4. How long you plan to attend school for

For more information on how the amounts are determined, visit this link to view the tables for the 2020-2021 award year (calculated by the U.S. Department of Education). 

How can I maintain my Pell Grant?

Once you receive a Pell Grant, in order to maintain it (aka, keep the money!), you must maintain your enrollment in a U.S. undergraduate program.

Additionally, you must make sure to fill out the FAFSA form each year you are in school, which ensures that you are still eligible for federal student aid.

More information on the FAFSA is available here

Apply for the Pell Grant in Three Easy Steps

Now that you know everything there is to know about the Pell Grant, if you believe you may be eligible, follow the steps below to apply!

  1. Fill out the FAFSA, either online or download the PDF and send it by mail. 
  2. Once your FAFSA is complete and received, you can expect to receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within 1-2 weeks.
    1. This report will summarize the aid programs for which you have been deemed eligible. The SAR will also outline the award amounts for each program.
    2. (IMPORTANT: if you do not claim your Pell Grant in a timely manner, you risk losing the award for the given year)
  3. Once you have claimed your Pell Grant, you can expect the grant to apply directly to your college or university approximately 2-4 weeks before the start of the semester.

With that, I'll leave it to you. Happy applying!

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