Available Assistance Options for Low-Income Students
Federal Pell Grants
Attending college can be quite costly. Luckily, there are grant programs in place to help make getting an education affordable. Federal Pell Grants are the most common form of federal grant issued to students.
Pell Grants are not like loans, which means you don’t have to pay them back. As you might guess, there is a lot of competition for Pell Grants because – for students – they basically amount to free money. Most Pell Grants are issued to undergraduate students who are low-income or belong to low-income families; however, there are other eligibility requirements as well.
In the end, your eligibility is determined by the Department of Education. In order to find out whether or not you qualify to receive aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to by its acronym, FAFSA. You may fill out the application online as early as January 1 of every year.
Can I have some more details?
Nearly all Pell Grants are issued to undergraduate students who don’t already have a degree. In order to continue the advancement of education for American children, the Department of Education may also issue Pell Grants to students taking teacher certificate courses, even after they’ve received an undergraduate degree.
For many people, the most important thing about Pell Grants is that they do not require repayment, but in reality the most important thing to remember about Pell Grants is that they are a gateway to additional funding.
Many other financial aid sources, both federal and otherwise, look to the FAFSA to determine eligibility. That means that even if you don’t qualify for a Pell Grant, completing the FAFSA may be the only way to make yourself eligible for any number of other financial aid opportunities. For instance, if you are hoping to receive aid from the Academic Competitiveness Grant, you better have a completed FAFSA on file!
Are there specific eligibility requirements I should be aware of?
Pell Grants are not just awarded to any and all undergraduate students. They are primarily reserved for those who have high “financial need.” The larger the gap between what a student (and/or his family) earns and the cost of an education, the more likely he is to receive aid.
Families with incomes of up to $50,000 annually are eligible. In reality, a large portion of the grants go to families with less than $20,000 in annual earnings.
Past that, it’s hard to say whether an individual is likely to be approved. Congress has to approve the formula used to decide where the eligibility line is drawn, but there are many factors to be considered. After the Department of Education has reviewed your application, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report detailing your eligibility. Your schools of interest will also receive a copy.
How much might I receive?
You may only be awarded one Pell Grant per school year, and in 2013-14, the maximum grant was $5,635. In 2014-15, the maximum is $5,730. Each year the maximum is reevaluated and adjusted according to perceived need.
What you individually receive depends on lots of things, including your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your school’s Cost of Attendance (COA), full-time enrollment status, etc.
Most people do not receive the maximum amount, however students who have had parents or guardians killed serving in post-9/11 military conflicts may be eligible for larger Pell Grants, if they meet certain criteria.
How do I get the money?
The Department of Education issues each college and university enough funds to pay all of the Federal Pell Grants owed to that school’s students. Your school may send you a check, credit your tuition account directly, or use some combination of those award methods. Your school is obligated to tell you how they’ll pay you ahead of time.
You won’t receive a one-time lump sum payment. Your school is required to pay you at least twice per year. Usually those payments are spread out, with one payment occurring each term.
Where do I apply?
You can apply online at the FAFSA website. If you prefer a paper application, call 800-4-FED-AID (433-3243). Contact the school(s) you are attending or interested in attending to determine when they want you to have completed filing your FAFSA.