How to Apply for a Pell Grant

A Pell Grant is a Federal Government Grant for U.S. post-secondary students who are in financial need.  Pell Grants are named after Clairborne Pell (1918-2009), a Democrat Senator from Rhode Island who sponsored the Pell Grant.

The goal of the Pell Grant was to help provide equal educational opportunities for people from lower-income families.

Who is eligible for a Pell Grant?:

In order to get a Pell Grant, a person has to meet the general requirements for all Federal Student Aid programs.

There are many different requirements for eligibility in Federal Student Aid programs.  Students have to be enrolled in eligible programs in eligible institutions and working towards degrees.  They cannot be enrolled in elementary or secondary schools.  They need to have a high school diploma or an equivalent like a GED.  Unresolved criminal drug convictions may make a person ineligible for Federal Student Aid.

Eligibility for Federal Student Aid also depends on a student’s performance in school.  For example, a student with a higher Grade Point Average (GPA) is more likely to be eligible than one who is failing all of his or her courses.

Students have to be enrolled at least half time in order to be eligible for Federal Student Aid.  That means they have to be taking at least half of the course load of a full time student.

Federal or state criminal drug convictions may make a person ineligible for Federal Student Aid.  There are many exceptions, however.  Drug convictions that were reversed, set aside or removed from a person’s record will not disqualify them from receiving Federal Student Aid or Pell Grants.  The same applies to juvenile drug convictions.  

Drug convictions are most likely to disqualify a student from getting Federal Student Aid if the conviction occurred while they were enrolled in college or university and applying for Federal Student Aid.  There are other factors involved as well.  For example, if a person is convicted of first offence possession of illegal drugs, then they have to wait one year to become eligible for Federal Student Aid.  If they are convicted of selling illegal drugs, they have to wait two years.  For second or third drug offences a person may become permanently ineligible, depending on whether they were convicted of possessing or selling drugs.  Generally speaking, selling drugs is more likely to make a person ineligible for a longer period than simple possession.

Generally speaking only U.S. citizens are eligible for Federal Student Aid.  Non-citizens, however, are eligible under certain circumstances.  In order to be eligible, non-citizens usually need to be living in the U.S. with the intention of becoming permanent residents or citizens.

Pell Grants are mainly given to undergraduate students.  Some Postbaccalaureate Programs, however, are also eligible for the Pell Grant.  Pell Grants are generally only for 4 year programs.  Post-bachelor teacher certification programs are also eligible for Pell Grants.

Ineligibility and eligibility for Pell Grants:

Prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries are not eligible for Pell Grants.  Prisoners in county or city jails, however, are eligible.  People under house arrest, in halfway houses or serving sentences on weekends are also eligible.

Students taking correspondence courses can be eligible for Pell Grants (and other Federal Student Aid programs) under some circumstances.

How to get a Pell Grant:

If a student meets the general requirements for Federal Student Aid and for Pell Grants, they can then try to apply for one.  In order to apply for a Pell Grant a student needs to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application.

FAFSA applications can be completed online at  

A person who successfully completes a FAFSA and is found to be eligible for Federal Student Aid will be able to receive a Pell Grant.

After completing the FAFSA, the student will get something called an EFC score.  The EFC score is based on a person’s financial need.  The lower the EFC score, the greater the student’s financial need.  As a result, students who get lower EFC scores on the FSA applications are eligible for more money.

There are also certain deadlines that a student needs to meet in order to receive their Pell Grants by the next school year.  These deadlines vary from state to state.

The rules surrounding who is or is not eligible for Federal Student Aid and Pell Grants are fairly complicated.  Luckily, however, applying for a Pell Grant is much easier.  Students can simply complete a FAFSA application online at and then wait to see if they qualify or not.  If they do qualify for Federal Student Aid they may then be able to get a Pell Grant.

Reference: Federal Student Aid Eligibility Handbook, 2010-2011. Federal Pell Grant Program Handbook