Formerly known as “Basic Educational Opportunity Grants”, Federal Pell Grants are available to primarily undergraduate students struggling with low-income circumstances, restricting their options for post-secondary education. Unlike the various types of federal loans available to students wishing to attend college or university in the United States of America, Federal Pell Grants are not repaid; they are unconditional grants, not loans.
Federal Pell Grants are designed to support students who have financial need, and are, therefore, awarded on a needs basis. Each year the federal government assigns a set amount for the total of Federal Pell Grants to be awarded, and that amount can and does vary as a result. The total pool that is budgeted is divided between the number of grants available. For example, in the 2019 to 2020 school year, the maximum grant per student is $6,195.00.
Who Can Apply?
Any student with financial constraints (individually or within their family, of they are dependent upon their parents) can apply for a Federal Pell Grant. In general, they are awarded to American citizens and foreigners with official residency in the United States of America. The grants are issued largely to undergraduate (those who have yet to attain their Bachelor’s Degree) students at the college or university level, or those planning to attend vocational schools. Some Federal Pell Grants may be available to students enrolled in certain post-Baccalaureate programs, such as those that will result in a license to teach, or teacher certification.
It is worthy of note that Federal Pell Grants do not take into account previous academic performance or grade averages. They are based on a combination of factors, including the cost of the college or university course, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), and other criteria. The EFC is an important factor in determining eligibility and represents the amount of money that the government believes a student’s family (based on ta, returns, income and assets) can afford to contribute toward the cost of higher education.
Students who are dependent on their parents may apply for a Federal Pell Grant; so can married or mature students. The status of each student applicant is taken into consideration and “dependency status’ is, therefore, a factor in the granting process.
How Can Students Apply?
The Federal Pell Grants are awarded through a complex formula that calculates grant amounts based on the following individual student criteria:
• financial need (within a family or individual)
• the cost that the individual will have to pay to attend school
• whether the student is to be enrolled on a full- or part-time basis
• the student’s plans to attend college or university for the full year or only a portion of the year
Students who feel they may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant are able to apply for and (if approved) receive Federal Pell Grants until they obtain their Bachelor’s Degree; this is true regardless of the length of time it takes to achieve the degree. The federal government will, however, treat each year’s application within the framework of the facts stated on the application.
In order to apply for a Federal Pell Grants, students must fill in the standard application form issued by the Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) program; it can be obtained online or in hard copy and completed by either method. What is pivotal to the completion of the FAFSA form is that it must contain entirely factual information and every detail must be included. Failure to fully complete the form will very likely result in immediate disqualification from the Federal Pell Grants program. False information can result in severe penalties, even criminal charges.
The FAFSA form is the same form that students would use to apply for a federal student loan. Specifics of the application will indicate that an individual student is, in fact, applying for a Federal Pell Grant. When applying, students are advised to not try to second-guess the government’s granting formula. Simply state that accurate fact by filling in the form correctly and honestly and leave the decision-making process in the hands of the granting body. Odds are that even if the maximum grant amount is approved, it will not completely cover the cost of tuition, books and other fees associated with the cost of higher education, so students are encouraged to seek other forms of funding in tandem with their application for a Federal Pell Grant.
Federal Pell Grants are applied for through one of the 5,400 participating post-secondary educational institutions in America. A student cannot receive Federal Pell Grants from more than one of these schools at a time. Because the grants are awarded through the specific school where the student plans to attend, the approved funds are most often paid into the student’s account at the school; occasionally the funds are paid to the student or a combination of the school and the student. This is up to the discretion of the granting body.
When applying for a Federal Pell Grants, the student will need to have a number of documents at hand, together with exact information and data. Done properly, the completion of the FAFSA form should take roughly one hour, assuming the requisite information is assembled beforehand. Some of the reference materials and data required will include:
• social security number
• driver’s license number (if the student drives)
• W-2 forms from the previous tax year
• for married students, copies of the previous year’s tax returns for both spouses
• for students dependent upon their parents, copies of the previous year’s tax returns for both parents
• bank statements
• statements of income from investments or business
• all other proofs of income
Students must be prudent in their applications, ensuring all information is included and correct. Otherwise, the application may be rejected out of hand.
How Are Grants Awarded?
Students who are approved for Federal Pell Grants will be notified in writing. Funds are paid out depending upon start dates for the school and other factors; the details of the funding payment dates and amounts will be included in the letter of approval.
Federal Pell Grants are designed to assist students without the normal means to attend post-secondary educational institutions. Their availability on a needs-based criterion ensures that students with ambitions but insufficient financial means can still attend college, university or a vocational institution. Federal Pell Grants may not completely cover the cost of higher education, but they can be the difference in allowing everyone with the desire to obtain their Degree, ensuring an equal playing field for the students of America.