The Pell Grant: How This Free Money Can Help You Afford College

close up of hangs typing on a keyboard filling out the Pell Grant

College is an essential stepping stone for many, but the cost can be daunting. The average annual cost of attending college in the United States is a staggering $36,436 per student. This includes not only tuition and fees but also books, supplies, and daily living expenses.

To put this number in perspective, consider that a brand new 2023 Honda Accord LX 4dr Sedan costs approximately $32,540. In essence, attending college is like buying a brand-new Honda Accord every year, for four years in a row!

2023 Honda Accord

Can you imagine buying a brand-new Honda Accord every year, for four years in a row? And that’s just the average. For many students, the cost is even higher. College costs a lot of money and the goal is to reduce the cost.

Unfortunately, this is the average cost. Many students face even higher costs, making college inaccessible without significant financial aid. The high cost of education can be a major burden for students and families.

One of the best free financing tools is the Pell Grant, specifically designed to help students afford undergraduate education. However, eligibility comes with specific rules. Here’s what you need to know to unlock this powerful financial aid option and conquer college costs without drowning in debt.

What Is The Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is a federal grant program that assists low-income undergraduate students in the United States in paying for college. Unlike loans, Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. This makes them a valuable source of financial aid for students who need it most because it is free money.

What Can You Use The Pell Grant For

You can use this grant for tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other educational expenses.

Here is a breakdown of how you can use the Pell Grant:

  • Tuition and fees: This is the largest expense for most students, and it can cover all or a portion of it.
  • Room and board: This includes the cost of housing and meals on campus. The grant can cover all or a portion of this expense.
  • Books and supplies: These are essential for any college student, and they can cover all or a portion of the cost.
  • Other educational expenses: This includes transportation, childcare, and other expenses related to attending college. The grant can cover all or a portion of these expenses.

How Do You Qualify For A Pell Grant

Typically, the Pell Grant is awarded only to undergraduate students who display financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. 

Here are the basic eligibility requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
  • Have a valid Social Security number
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in a degree- or certificate-granting program at a participating postsecondary institution (college, university, career school, etc.)
  • Have not yet completed a bachelor’s or professional degree program
  • Meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements

Financial Need:

  • Demonstrate financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculated from the FAFSA will determine your financial need.
  • For the 2023-2024 academic year, the EFC must be $6,495 or lower to be eligible for the maximum award.

Enrollment Status:

  • Grant amounts are based on your enrollment status of either, full-time, three-quarter time, half-time, or less than half-time.
  • Full-time students receive the maximum award.
  • Part-time students receive a prorated award based on their enrollment status.

How Much Money Can I Get

Amounts can change yearly. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $7,395 for the 2023–24 award year (July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024).

Maintaining good standing is the key to keeping your Pell Grant. Once you embark on your college journey, maintaining “satisfactory academic progress” (SAP) becomes crucial to continue receiving financial aid, including the Pell Grant. While the specific definition of SAP may differ between schools, it generally involves meeting certain benchmarks:

  • Minimum Grade Point Average (GPA): You’ll need to maintain a GPA above a specific threshold, typically around 2.0
  • Course Completion Rate: You’ll need to successfully complete a certain percentage of your attempted courses, usually around 67%
  • Timeframe for Completion: You’ll need to progress towards your degree within a specified time frame, often 150% of the normal program length

To ensure continued eligibility it’s essential to familiarize yourself with your school’s specific SAP requirements. Consult your academic advisor or financial aid office for detailed information and guidance on meeting these criteria. Remember, maintaining good academic standing will not only secure your financial support but also set you on the path to academic success.

How Do I Get My Money

Your school will offer different options to receive your funds. They can electronically direct deposit the funds into your bank account. It is possible to ask to have them mail a paper check to you. Most likely the money will be credited to your student account to pay for tuition and fees.

How Do I Apply For The Pell Grant

One of the best things about the Pell Grant is its seamless application process. When you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you automatically apply for the Pell Grant. This means no additional forms or steps are required.

If you qualify for the grant, it will be automatically included in your financial aid package. This simplifies the process and removes one more hurdle on your educational journey. You can utilize the saved time to look for scholarships.

You should start by submitting a (FAFSA) form. Schools use the information on the FAFSA form to determine your eligibility for a Pell Grant, and if so, how much you’re eligible to receive. You will have to fill out the FAFSA form every year you’re in school in order to stay eligible for federal student aid, including Pell Grant awards.