The Federal Pell Grant is a form of gift aid, which is money that does not need to be earned or repaid. It is the largest and most popular need-based college grant program for undergraduate students. You can apply for the Pell Grant by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The maximum Federal Pell Grant is $5,920 in 2017-18, up $105 from the year before. The average Pell Grant is about two thirds of the maximum Pell Grant. AmeriCorps education awards and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant are pegged to the amount of the maximum Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant is awarded primarily to low- and moderate-income students. Almost 92% of Pell Grant recipients have a family adjusted gross income (AGI) under $50,000. Less than 1% of Pell Grant recipients have a family AGI of $100,000 or more, mostly due to unusual financial circumstances or multiple children in college at the same time. About a third of undergraduate students receive the Pell Grant each year.
Eligibility is based on the expected family contribution (EFC) and enrollment status. There is an eligibility cutoff when the EFC reaches 90% of the maximum Pell Grant. The grant amount is roughly equal to the difference between the maximum Pell grant and the EFC. The minimum Pell Grant is equal to 10% of the maximum Pell Grant. Actual grants amounts are prorated for students who are enrolled less than full-time.
Recipients must not already have a Bachelor’s degree, except for students who are pursuing a post-baccalaureate teacher certification or licensing program. Otherwise, the Pell Grant is not available for graduate and professional school students. Students cannot receive a Pell Grant from two colleges at the same time.
Students who are incarcerated in a federal or state penal institution are ineligible for the Pell Grant, as are students who are subject to involuntary civil commitment after incarceration for sexual offenses. Students who are convicted of the sale or possession of illegal drugs while receiving federal student aid may have their eligibility for all federal student aid, including the Pell Grant, suspended for a period of time or terminated.
Since July 1, 2012, students have been limited to receiving the Pell Grant for the equivalent of 6 years of full-time enrollment. Students who are eligible for the Pell Grant have the option of skipping the grant one term to preserve eligibility for the grant in a future term. This can be beneficial if the student would have qualified for the minimum Pell Grant, but expects to qualify for a larger grant in the future.
The Pell Grant is named after Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He created the predecessor to the Pell Grant, the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) in 1973. The BEOG was renamed the Pell Grant in 1980 in his honor.
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