Unlike most college financial aid options, the Federal Pell Grant is grant that does not need to be repaid. It is available for certain low income students who are enrolled in either an associates or bachelors degree program, or in certain circumstances a post-baccalaureate teaching program. The Pell grant is essentially a scholarship for needy students.
The maximum amount of a Pell Grant is currently set at $5,500 per year. However, the actual amount of the award will depend on the student’s financial situation, enrollment as full time or part time student, and the costs of attending the school. There are over 5,400 eligible post-secondary schools that administer the Pell Grant program.
The first step toward receiving a Pell Grant is to complete a Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, at the Department of Education website. This is the standard financial aid form that all students fill out every year, or have filled out for them by parents in some cases. The FAFSA asks for financial information about the student and the student’s parents to determine an “Expected Family Contribution.” The EFC is the Department of Education’s way of setting out how much a family is expected to chip in for school, taking into account the number of children, income, and assets.
The second step for the Pell Grant or for almost any other student aid is to gain admission to a participating school (just about every university and college participates) and inform the office of student financial aid that the student is asking for financial aid. This alerts the school that they should request the students’ EFC and FAFSA information from the Department of Education. If the student has demonstrated need, the Department of Education will tell the school that the student is eligible for the Pell Grant. The amount of eligibility will also take into account the total cost of attendance, as determined by the school. The more expensive the school, the more likely that the Department of Education will raise the amount of the grant.
The school has several options for how they will disburse the grant money to the student. They can credit the amount of the grant directly to the student’s school account to offset qualifying costs, or they can transfer the money to the student, usually in the form of a check. Or the school can combine those methods, sending some of the grant to the student’s bill and some of the grant to the student in the form of a check.
In short, the process for getting a Pell Grant is almost entirely automatic as far as the student is concerned. Once the student has filled out the FAFSA and enrolled at the school, the school and the Department of Education will work together to determine whether the student is eligible, and if so, how much of a grant the government will give the student.