Understanding the Pell Grant Requirements

by Glen Clarke

The federal Pell Grant requirements consist of the eligibility factors that must be satisfied in order to qualify for this award. The Pell Grant was established to benefit students who demonstrate an “exceptional” financial need, and to become eligible you must therefore have a very high need for aid to pay for school.

The level of need you must exemplify is primarily measured by EFC, or expected family contribution, and is now set at 5,273. By having an EFC that is below this cutoff threshold you should become eligible as long as you can satisfy the other Pell Grant requirements that are in place.

These mostly have to do with being able to qualify for federal student aid, although there are two requirements that are specific to the Pell Grant. These include the following:

  • Most graduate programs don’t qualify for the Pell Grant. Students must therefore be attending school as an undergraduate student, and not have received their first bachelor’s degree. The main exception to this is if the student is enrolled in a qualified graduate or professional program that may lead to licensure.
  • The student cannot be serving time in a state or federal penal institution.

The remaining eligibility requirements do not pertain exclusively to the Pell Grant, and are rather in place to become eligible for all forms of federal student aid. These include the following:

  • Must be U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Having a valid social security number is required.
  • Must have a high-school diploma, GED, or show the appropriate “ability to benefit”.
  • Must attend one of the 5,400 postsecondary institutions that participate
  • Enrollment in a qualified degree program is required.
  • Obligated to make satisfactory academic progress in program curriculum.
  • Males between the ages of 18 and 25 must be enrolled with the Selective Service.
  • Drug convictions while receiving federal student aid may negate eligibility
  • Cannot be in default on federal student loans or owe money for federal grants

Evaluating Your Pell Grant Amount

By satisfying the aforementioned list of Pell Grant requirements you should become eligible for the award, and from that point it is simply a matter of determining the amount of aid you should receive.

This is calculated mostly via the EFC, although other factors also play a role, such as the cost of attendance, and enrollment status. Remember that having an EFC below 5,273 will only make you eligible for the Pell Grant, it won’t necessarily allow you to get the maximum Pell Grant amount that is available for that particular school year.

The closer your EFC is to zero the better your chances are at getting the full amount, with students having EFC values at, or very close to zero almost always qualifying for the full amount. Cost of attendance is also considered, with higher CoA values resulting in larger awards. Enrollment status then fractionally prorates the final amount in regard to the number of credits that are being taken during any one semester. For example, if you were eligible to receive a full award of 5,550 dollars, but only attended class on a three-quarters time basis, a 25 percent reduction would be implemented and you would only receive about 75 percent of your full award, or 4,162.50 dollars.

Putting It All Together

The most critical Pell Grant requirement has to do with being able to demonstrate the appropriate level of need, which is primarily evaluated via the EFC. EFC is calculated via a standardized equation that includes the following factors:

  • Household income
  • Household size
  • Household members attending college

Being an independent will negate the inclusion of your parents’ income, and instead only your income, and perhaps your spouse’s will be included in determining your EFC. Lower incomes result in lower EFC values, and having no income can almost guarantee an EFC of zero. Having a larger household size will also lower your EFC, along with having a higher number of family members attending postsecondary institutions.

When all is said and done it is therefore your household’s income that will have the most dramatic effect on your ability to qualify for a Pell Grant. This is indicated via your EFC, which is supposed to be a measurement of your household’s ability to contribute money towards your education-related expenses. Households who make less money exemplify a higher financial need, a lower EFC value, and thus a higher likelihood of receiving a larger amount of Pell Grant aid.

Applying for a Pell Grant

To apply for a Pell Grant you must complete the FAFSA, also known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application is the universal application for all forms of federal student aid, and is required if you want to be put into contention for the abundance of federal aid that is available each year, including the Pell Grant. The earliest you can submit the FAFSA is January 1, and the latest you can submit one is June 30. It is recommended that you submit your application as soon as you possibly can, as most aid is given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Once you have completed the FAFSA you should be given access to your Student Aid Report, or SAR. Within this report should be a detailing of the information you provided during the submission of your FAFSA, your EFC, and your eligibility status in regard to the Pell Grant. Most students who are able to satisfy the federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements end up getting about half of the full award amount, which is now set at 5,550 dollars for the 2010-11 school year.

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