The Federal Pell Grant: What IT Is and How to Get IT

Mar 03, 2020

Students who want to get the Federal Pell Grant to help them pay for college must meet eligibility requirements and submit an application.

Pell Grant Overview

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the Federal Pell Grant Program provides financial aid to undergraduate students with financial need. These grants do not need to be paid back and are typically awarded to students who have not yet earned a bachelor's degree, but may also be awarded to post-baccalaureate students who are enrolled in a teacher certification program.

Award Amount

Pell Grant award amounts vary and are dependent upon a number of different factors, including financial need, school tuition and full-time or part-time student status. The maximum Pell Grant award changes from year to year; for example, it is $5,815 for the 2016-2017 year, and it will be $6,345 for the 2020-2021 year.

Application Process

To apply for a Pell Grant, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form available on the FAFSA website. The information students enter into the FAFSA will be used to determine eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant Program as well as award amounts.


Students need to be able to demonstrate financial need to be considered for this grant. Financial need is measured by calculating the difference between the cost of attending school and the student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The cost of attendance for a particular school includes expenses such as tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, child care, disability costs and study abroad, depending on the student's situation. The Expected Family Contribution is calculated based on the financial information provided on the FAFSA, which may include family income, assets, size and number of college-attending family members.

Other applicant eligibility requirements include:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number (exception if from certain eligible territories)
  • Have a high school diploma, GED or state-approved homeschool education
  • Be accepted or enrolled in an approved program as a regular student

The Federal Pell Grant is awarded to students based on financial need. Students can apply for it by filling out the FAFSA.

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