Pell Grants are grants awarded by the federal government to help students pay for college. While there is no specific income limit for a Pell Grant, students generally must demonstrate “exceptional financial need” to qualify.
Here’s more information about how Pell Grants work, the Pell Grant eligibility requirements, and what it takes to qualify.
What Is a Pell Grant?
A Pell Grant is funding from the U.S. Department of Education awarded to undergraduate students who have a high degree of financial need. The amount students can receive with a Pell Grant typically changes annually. For the 2023-24 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant award is $7,395.
Unlike some other types of need-based financial aid, a federal Pell Grant does not need to be repaid.
Because of the rising college tuition, financial aid like Pell Grants could help make school more affordable for students who qualify.
Pell Grant Eligibility Criteria
To see if you meet the Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FAFSA is one of the important financial aid terms to become familiar with. The FAFSA will help a college or university determine whether you qualify for a Pell Grant and if so, how much you may receive. You’ll have to fill out the FAFSA every year you attend school.
You Pell Grant eligibility will also depend on:
• Student Aid Index (SAI) Formerly called Expected Family Contribution (EFC), your SAI is a number your school uses to determine the amount of financial aid you qualify for. Your SAI is calculated using a formula that may include your family’s income and assets and the size of your family.
• Cost of attendance (COA) This is what it will cost for your schooling for the year. Your COA includes tuition, room, board, fees, books, and supplies for your college or particular degree program.
• Whether you’re attending school full-time or part-time
In addition to all of the above, other Pell Grant eligibility requirements include:
U.S. Citizen or Eligible Noncitizen
To qualify for a Pell Grant, you must be a U.S. citizen or a certain type of noncitizen. An eligible noncitizen includes the following individuals:
• U.S. nationals
• U.S. permanent residents with a Permanent Resident Card, Resident Alien Card, or Alien Registration Receipt Card
• People with T nonimmigrant status (they have a T-visa or their parent has one)
• Battered immigrant-qualified aliens
• Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau
Check with your school’s financial aid office to determine if you qualify as an eligible noncitizen.
High School Diploma or Equivalent
To qualify for Pell Grant eligibility, you must be an undergraduate college student. Those who have already earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree are ineligible. However, in certain cases, students who are in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program may qualify for a Pell Grant.
Your eligibility for a Pell Grant depends on your college enrollment status and whether you’re a full-time or part-time student.
Pell Grants are prorated for part-time students and depend on the number of enrolled credits they plan to take.
No Defaulted Federal Student Loans
If you’ve defaulted on a federal student loan, you’ll be unable to qualify for a Pell Grant until you get out of default. You can get out of default by fully repaying the loan, rehabilitating the loan, or consolidating it.
To rehabilitate a loan, you’ll need to make nine monthly payments on the defaulted loan within 20 days of the due date for 10 consecutive months. With consolidation, you consolidate your defaulted loan into a Direct Consolidation Loan and agree to pay the new loan on an income-driven repayment plan or you must make three consecutive on-time payments in full on the old loan before you consolidate it.
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Selective Service Registration
To receive money for financial aid, male students used to have to sign up for the Selective Service. However, because of the FAFSA Simplification Act passed by Congress in late 2020, male students no longer have to sign up for Selective Service registration as a prerequisite for financial aid.
However, almost all males between 18 and 25 must register with Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. If they don’t, they may face a felony charge, a fine of up to $250,000, and jail time of up to five years.
The FAFSA Simplification Act also restored Pell Grant eligibility to confined or incarcerated individuals. They must enroll in an eligible prison education program (PEP) to get a Pell Grant.
Individuals convicted of a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense are not eligible to receive a Pell Grant. However, starting July 1, 2023, those who are subject to an involuntary civil commitment for a sexual offense may qualify for a Pell Grant.
There are no Pell Grant eligibility income limits. Federal Pell Grant eligibility is based on SAI, not income.
Nor are there age limits on Pell Grants. Older adult students can apply for a Pell Grant by filling out the FAFSA form and following the requirements for the school they plan to attend.
There is a time limit for a Pell Grant, however. You can receive a Pell Grant for 12 terms, which is roughly six years, and no more.
Pell Grant Income Eligibility Chart
As mentioned, the Pell Grant is not based on income. Instead, it’s based on your SAI and college cost of attendance. You can get an estimated amount of the grant you might receive by checking the Pell Grant eligibility income chart at studentaid.gov.
Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility
By law, you are limited to six years of Pell Grant funding over your lifetime.
Other Ways to Fund a College Education
Besides qualifying for Pell Grant eligibility, there are a variety of options for paying for your college education. These include:
• Scholarships: Scholarships are merit-based aid that you don’t have to pay back. You can find scholarships through your college or university, your local community, and certain organizations you or your parents might belong to.
• Grants: Like scholarships, grants for college usually don’t need to be repaid. They can come from your federal or state government, your college, or a private or nonprofit organization.
• Student loans: A student loan is a type of financial aid you use to borrow money and then repay it later with interest. There are federal student loans, which come from the federal government, and private student loans from private lenders. Comparing student loans can help you decide the best type of loan for your needs.
If you take out student loans, and you’d like to reduce your payments or get more favorable terms after graduation, student loan refinancing is an option to explore. When you refinance, you replace your old loans with a new loan that ideally has a lower interest rate or better terms that might help you save money.
While borrowers with good credit may find it easier to qualify for refinancing and get a lower rate, there are even options for bad credit refinancing that borrowers with poor credit could explore.
While student loan refinancing has benefits, it’s important to know that refinancing federal student loans makes them ineligible for federal protections and programs like income-driven repayment plans. If you may need access to these programs, refinancing might not be the best option for you.
A Pell Grant can help cover some of the cost of college for those who qualify, and the money awarded doesn’t have to be repaid. Pell Grant eligibility is based on your SAI and your college’s cost of attendance. Find out if you qualify by filling out the FAFSA.
Another potential way to save money on what you owe for your college education is to refinance your student loans, which might help you get a lower interest rate. When you refinance a student loan with SoFi, you’ll find low fixed or variable rates, flexible terms, and no fees. And you can learn if you prequalify in just two minutes.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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