8 Steps for Online Students Getting the Pell Grant

August 27, 2012

Online students gain a lot of benefits from their education, especially flexible schedules and one-on-one education. However, many believe that the programs online today are too expensive and that students won't qualify for the same financial aid. Online universities and colleges with online courses have the same eligibility for financial aid programs, including the Pell Grant. If you've previously considered going to online school but don't know if you'll qualify for Pell Grant, here are some things that you should know.

1. Pell Grants Will Pay for an Online Degree

Like scholarships and other grants, Pell Grants also can help pay for your online degree. It's the best known federal grant program for a reason, because it's free money for low-income students. You can use the Pell Grant to pay for any accredited undergraduate degree of your choice.

2. Who's Eligible for Pell Grants

Basically, those students with a low expected family contribution number or little to no income will be at the top of the list to receive this grant. You also have to be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or eligible non-citizen. You need to demonstrate your financial need on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and you need to have a high school diploma or GED. If you are not enrolled in a pursuing admission or accredited school, then you will not be eligible to receive a Pell Grant, so again, you need to check your school's accreditation. You also can't already have a bachelor's degree or be in prison. If you are in default on a student loan, you won't be able to qualify.

3. Checking Your School's Accreditation

Your online degree program must be accredited in order to receive a Pell Grant. There are several authorized accredited agencies that certify a school is legitimate and efficient for its students. You need to check the school's about section or talk to school counselor about the accreditation before jumping into anything. The U.S. Department of Education has set up a database for accreditation through CHEA.

4. Completing a FAFSA

The FAFSA is available online and takes about 30 minutes on average to complete. It's a relatively simple form that just takes an inventory of your assets, including tax information, and your current student status. In order to get the Pell Grant, you have to show proof that you do have considerable financial need. The answers on your application will determine the Expected Family Contribution number, which will then be used to determine a total financial aid package. You can always appeal a package if it's too low or denied.

5. Finishing FAFSA Right

Students really should apply for FAFSA online. This is the quickest and most efficient way of completing a FAFSA. More than that, it will also allow you to search for your online school's code and help you get your financial aid information transferred to your school once completed. You have to file a new FAFSA every year, so it also saves time to do this online as you want to get your financial aid package before anyone else.

6. What You Need to Get a Pell Grant

Filling out a FAFSA requires that you know all of your information and your parent's information if you are under 24 (which means you are still dependent). You'll have to have a social security card, driver's license, W-2 forms from the previous year, federal tax return from previous year, parents' federal tax return from previous year or spouse's federal tax return from the previous year if married. You also need untaxed income records and bank statements, or investment records if necessary.

7. Know Your Deadlines

It's really important to understand that the deadlines for Pell Grants are the same as FAFSA. January 1st is the opening day when all students can apply for FAFSA. March 1st is the typical deadline for most states and colleges to receive a FAFSA. In some cases, it's in July, as this is the federal deadline. The difference between March and July is a lot of money—you could lose $1,000 or more in financial aid by not applying early. There is only so much federal cheddar to go around.

8. Using the Pell Grant Effectively

The Pell Grant is to be used to pay for your online program expenses, which means tuition, fees, books, supplies, living and transportation costs. You'll receive the aid at the beginning of every semester for which you have applied and received a financial aid package for. You should make sure to plan and budget your financial aid wisely, so that you have living expenses money to last you throughout the semester. Students receive Pell Grants through a check from their school or by direct deposit.

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Whether you’re on your way to school for the first time or thinking about finishing up a degree you should explore your options when it comes to obtaining Grants for School.

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