A Pell Grant is a federal award given to students with financial need. It can cover thousands of dollars of education expenses, but it comes with limits. The Pell Grant lifetime limit is six years of Pell Grant funding, but the dollar amount someone receives depends on many factors. Someone might reach the Pell Grant lifetime limit sooner if they receive more than 100 percent of the awarded amount during the academic year.

If you will receive a Pell Grant, you should be familiar with the lifetime limit and how it could affect your overall financial planning.

How the Pell Grant aid amount is determined

The Pell Grant is a need-based form of federal student aid, so the amount you receive depends on a few factors:

  • Expected family contribution (EFC): An EFC is a calculation that estimates how much money a family can contribute to a college education, using the family’s financial information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Status: Whether you’re planning to attend full time or half time will determine how much aid you’re eligible to receive.
  • Cost of attendance (COA): The cost of attendance estimates how much you’ll have to pay to attend college, including tuition, books, dining and more. Every school has a different COA.
  • Your enrollment: Your enrollment plans will impact your potential aid amount. If you plan to enroll for a full academic year, you’ll be awarded more than if you enroll for only one semester.

The maximum Pell Grant award for 2022-23

The maximum Pell Grant amount can change yearly. For the 2022-23 award year, the maximum Pell Grant award amount is $6,895, and the minimum is $692. The maximum amount you’re eligible to receive will fall within that range.

The maximum amount you can receive in a given year is known as a “scheduled award.” In some scenarios, you won’t use your full scheduled award. For instance, if you enroll with half-time status, you may receive only 50 percent of your scheduled award. You may also be eligible to receive up to 150 percent of your scheduled award if you attend full time for three semesters rather than the standard two.

How Pell Grant lifetime eligibility works

The Pell Grant lifetime limit is 100 percent of the total amount of aid you could receive each year over six years — totaling 600 percent of your scheduled award amount.

The U.S. Department of Education determines the progress toward your lifetime limit by looking at how much money you’ve received compared to your scheduled award amount. Let’s say you received 100 percent of your scheduled award in your freshman year but dropped to half-time enrollment for the next three years and received only half of your scheduled award:

  • Year One: 100 percent of Pell Grant scheduled award used.
  • Year Two: 50 percent of Pell Grant scheduled award used.
  • Year Three: 50 percent of Pell Grant scheduled award used.
  • Year Four: 50 percent of Pell Grant scheduled award used.

In this case, the lifetime eligibility you used (LEU) is 250 percent. This means that you can still receive 350 percent of your LEU. When your LEU hits 600 percent, you will no longer be eligible for Pell Grant funding.

To check your LEU percentage, log into your Federal Student Aid account using your FSA ID. Details about your Pell Grant award and progress toward your LEU will be listed under “My Aid.” You can also contact your school’s financial aid office.

How to apply for the Pell Grant

You’ll apply for a Pell grant through the FAFSA. To initiate the FASFA process, you have to create an FSA ID. If you’re a dependent student, your parents also need to create an FSA ID.

Some documents you and your parents may need to complete the FASFA include:

  • Social Security number (SSN)
  • Driver’s license
  • Alien registration number if you’re not a U.S citizen
  • Federal tax return
  • Financial records, such as investment and bank statements

Once you’ve submitted the FAFSA, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter outlining the aid you’re eligible for based on the information reported in your application.

To maintain your Pell Grant and financial aid eligibility, you must fill out the FAFSA every year. You must also maintain undergraduate enrollment at a nonforeign school and make satisfactory academic progress. Once you begin graduate studies or fall below your school’s standards for academic progress, you will lose eligibility.

Bottom line

You may qualify for a Pell Grant for up to 12 semesters — which translates to around six years of potential eligibility. The Pell Grant amount you qualify for depends on many factors, such as your expected family contribution, enrollment status and your school’s cost of attendance.

To see if you qualify for a Pell Grant and other need-based financial aid, you’ll need to apply for the FASFA.