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What is a Pell Grant?
A Pell Grant is a form of needs-based federal student aid available to students in the United States. Pell Grants can cover all or a portion of tuition costs as well as books, supplies, and personal expenses like room and board. Unlike student loans, Pell Grants don’t have to be repaid under most circumstances.
Pell Grants are intended to supplement other forms of financial aid, such as scholarships and student loans. Every year, the U.S. Department of Education sets the maximum amount of each Pell Grant award; for the 2017-2018 school year, that amount is $5,920. The grant may be even higher for certain students who had a parent killed in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Still, not every student is eligible to receive the full award, and some don’t qualify at all.
All students must meet and maintain the following criteria:
- Qualify for college: The student must have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
- Enrollment: The student must be or expect to be in an eligible program.
- Selective Service: If you are a male, you must register between the ages of 18 and 25.
- Valid Social Security number: All students, except those from the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, or Palau, must have one.
- Financial obligations: Students must not be in default on a federal student loan, nor owe a refund on a federal grant, and must certify that the Pell award will only be used for her education.
- Educational standing: The student must maintain satisfactory academic progress.
- Residency status: The student must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a green card; or have designation as a “battered immigrant” under the Violence Against Women Act; or have an Arrival-Departure Record from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services specifying that the student is of a protected immigrant class; or have a T visa, for survivors of human trafficking.
The Pell Grant is available only to undergraduate students, with the exception of students in some postbaccalaureate teacher-certification programs. Eligible students can receive the Pell Grant each year they’re enrolled, up to 12 semesters or roughly six years. However, since 1994, grant eligibility has been revoked from incarcerated people.
Students must apply using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which considers her family’s expected out-of-pocket contributions in determining how much the student will receive. The cost of attendance is also factored in, which includes not only tuition but also room and board and miscellaneous expenses like books and supplies, and even certain fees associated with study-abroad programs. The FAFSA must be completed again each year to maintain eligibility.
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Pell Grant example
Juana is a student from Haiti who was accepted to college at an American university. She fills out the FAFSA, which determines that her expected family contribution is low enough to qualify her for the full Pell Grant award. Although she’s not an American citizen, she can show a valid Arrival-Departure Record and qualifies under Form I-94’s protections for Haitian people. Her eligibility for the Pell Grant is secure and it helps her cover a large portion of her tuition expenses.