Paying for college isn’t an easy feat; fortunately, many students can qualify for federal aid, including Pell Grants. Pell Grants are a form of federal need-based student aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. They can be used to pay for tuition, books, room and board and more, making them a great avenue for low-income students to attend and graduate from college when they may not otherwise be able to afford to.

What is a Federal Pell Grant?

A Pell Grant is a form of need-based federal student aid available to college students in the United States. Pell Grants can cover all or a portion of qualifying academic expenses, like tuition costs, books, supplies and even personal academic expenses like room and board. Unlike student loans, however, Pell Grants don’t have to be repaid under most circumstances.

The federal government created Pell Grants in order to help students with the most amount of financial need. As a result, these grants aren’t always easy to qualify for. However, those who do qualify receive substantial aid that they can use alongside student loans, scholarships and other grants. While Pell Grants aren’t necessarily designed to cover the full cost of attending college, they can certainly help.

How much money can I get from the Pell Grant?

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 2022-23 school year, that amount is $6,895. 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.

The amount you receive in Pell Grant aid will vary based on factors like your expected family contribution (EFC), the cost of your school, whether you attend school full time or part time and your enrollment plans.

Eligible students can receive the Pell Grant each year they’re enrolled, up to 12 terms or roughly six years. Students who enroll for three terms in an academic year may be able to receive up to 150 percent of their scheduled Pell Grant award for that year.

Am I eligible for a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are available only to undergraduate students, so you can’t rely on this type of aid while you’re earning an advanced degree — the one exception being postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs.

Pell Grants have historically not been available to incarcerated individuals; however, the Department of Education is working on expanding the Second Chance Pell Experiment, which allows incarcerated people enrolled in participating programs to receive a Pell Grant. The department is expected to launch the proram nationwide on July 1, 2023.

Since eligibility for Pell Grants is based on the expected family contribution amount and not income, there is no specific income cutoff to consider. Your EFC is an estimation of your family’s financial responsibility based on resources like their total assets, yearly income and family size.

However, these grants are geared toward students who experience exceptional financial need, so those from low-income families are most likely to qualify for the maximum award amount. Other factors, like the school’s cost of attendance (COA), are also factored into your eligibility.

How do I apply for a Pell Grant?

To see if you qualify for a Pell Grant and other financial aid, you’ll start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form helps schools and government bodies determine how much aid each student is eligible for.

The FAFSA must be completed again each year to maintain eligibility for Pell Grants and other financial aid. The application opens each year on Oct. 1 for the upcoming academic year, and it’s best to apply as soon as possible to have your best shot at receiving aid.

How do I receive my Pell Grant?

Generally speaking, your school will handle your Pell Grant funds, but you might also be paid directly. In some cases, schools will combine these two methods — most likely, the financial aid office will apply the grant funds to your tuition and fees and send you the remaining funds, if there are any.

Frequently asked questions about Pell Grants

How do I check my Pell Grant status?

After filling out your FAFSA, you can check the status of your application by logging into your account on the Federal Student Aid website or calling your school’s financial aid office.

What can I spend my Pell Grant on?

Pell Grant funds can be used to cover tuition and fees for school, though you cannot use the funds to finance your education at more than one school at a time. Outside of tuition and fees, however, you can use the funds for books, technology expenses, transportation and supplies.

Money received through a Pell Grant is tax-free provided you use the funds for eligible educational expenses. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states that you have to keep track of Pell Grant money spent on incidental purchases (room and board, optional equipment, etc.) and include them in your gross income for tax purposes.

How do I maintain my grant?

You or your family must remain financially eligible for the award each academic year to maintain your grant. To prove this eligibility, you must fill out a FAFSA form every year you pursue an undergraduate degree, up to 12 school terms.

Can I still receive a Pell Grant as a part-time student?

Yes, you can receive Pell Grant funds as a part-time student. However, you may receive a lower amount of aid than you would if you were to attend college on a full-time basis.

Other college funding options

Since Pell Grants can pay a maximum of $6,895 per year in most cases, many students have to rely on additional funding to make it through college. Fortunately, there are a broad range of options when it comes to funding higher education, ranging from student loans, work-study programs, scholarships and other grants.

At the end of the day, a Pell Grant can get you part of the way there if you’re pursuing an undergraduate degree. If you hope to qualify and feel you may be eligible for this type of aid, filling out the FAFSA form before the deadline is the only way to find out.