How to Apply for a Pell Grant

by Glen Clarke

Knowing how to apply for a Pell Grant comes down to having an understanding of how to complete the FAFSA, as this is the official Pell Grant application that all students must fill out in order to become eligible for this award. The good news is that this application is fairly easy to complete, and shouldn’t take more than about an hour or two if you took the time to prepare accordingly before you actually go ahead and fill out the form. So what does that mean exactly?

The FAFSA requires that you provide a variety of information about yourself, including specific financial information that cannot typically be retrieved offhand. In other words you are going to need to have certain documentation and information by your side while you are completing the form in order to expedite the process, and by gathering the appropriate documentation and information before you begin your application you can make the process go by much faster.

Required Documentation and Information

The following is an accounting of all the various documentation and information that is needed for the completion of the FAFSA:

  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license or identification card
  • Alien registration card, or permanent resident card if not considered a U.S. citizen
  • W-2 forms and tax return documents
  • Parent’s tax documents if still considered a dependent
  • Spouse’s tax documents if currently married
  • Untaxed income statements
  • Bank statements
  • Investment documentation and statements
  • Mortgage information
  • Business and farm documentation

By having the above documentation and information close by you should have no trouble breezing through the FAFSA. If you haven’t received a tax return, or even filed for taxes for the current year, simply use the previous year’s tax documents and information when you are completing your FAFSA. If you know that your information has changed then you should estimate what the changes will be, and enter that information as it is needed.

Accessing the FAFSA

You have a choice of whether or not you want to complete the written form of the FAFSA, or the online version. It is highly recommended that you choose to fill out the online FAFSA, as this should make the entire process much more efficient due to the fact that you can submit the application online, instead of having to send one in via conventional mail. Regardless, if you do decide to complete the physical version you can obtain a copy going to, by calling the phone number 1-800-4-FED-AID, or by grabbing a copy at your school’s financial aid office.

If you do decide to complete the online version you can do so by visiting the website This is the official FAFSA website, and by following the instructions you can easily go ahead and complete your application if you have access to the Internet. Before you can officially submit your Pell Grant application you must first obtain your PIN. A PIN is simply a number that is used to authenticate your identification, and is much like an electronic signature. To obtain your PIN you should visit the website, and upon doing so make sure to keep it in a safe place that you won’t forget about. Once you have your PIN you should then navigate over to to complete your FAFSA—just make sure you have accumulated all of the necessary paperwork and information that is needed.

FAFSA Deadlines and the SAR

Remember that the earliest you can submit a FAFSA is January 1, and the latest you can submit one is June 30. It is recommended that you submit a FAFSA as soon as possible after the new year if you want to improve your chances at getting the maximum amount of federal aid that you possibly can. This is because most financial aid is allocated on a “first-come, first-serve” basis, with the earliest applications considered before late arrivals. This doesn’t necessarily apply strictly for the Pell Grant, and it is rather to be used as a general rule of thumb when applying for almost any sort of financial aid.

Once you have successfully submitted your FAFSA a Student Aid Report, or SAR will be generated. The SAR is something that you should review as quickly as possible, as it contains the information you provided on your FAFSA, your EFC, and your eligibility for certain kinds of aid, including the Pell Grant. The SAR is typically sent out about two weeks after you have completed your FAFSA, and should be reviewed upon reception to ensure that it contains accurate information.

Check to see if your EFC is below the Pell Grant cutoff threshold that is set at 5,273. If it is then you should see that you are “Pell Grant eligible”, and will therefore be able to receive aid via the Pell Grant for that particular school year. The amount of aid you are able to receive will be determined by your school’s financial aid department via a standardized equation that takes into account your EFC, cost of attendance, and enrollment status.

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