Who is Eligible for Pell Grants

January 1, 2012

To start, a Pell Grant is money that the federal government provides for students who need to pay for college who have low income. Federal Pell Grants are only for students who demonstrate a great financial need, whether through their parents income or their own. Students under the age of 24 must include their parents’ information to ascertain whether they meet the income cap, which is somewhere around $20,000. The Pell Grant was named after U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, a Democrat of Rhode Island, who originally was known for the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, which was what the Pell Grant was formerly named. Under sponsorship of the United States Department of Education, the Pell Grant helps thousands of students afford college education each year. In fact, federally funded grant programs help about 5.4 million full-time and part-time students college or vocational school students all over the country. In the 2010-11 school year, 7 of the top 10 colleges by total Pell Grant money awarded were for-profit institutions, which includes University of Phoenix, Ashford University, DeVry University and Kaplan University in the top 4.

So Who Gets the Pell Grant

Every student applying for financial and specifically the Pell Grant will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is the application that starts your financial aid process. Most colleges require that you fill out this form to be able to ascertain your financial aid situation correctly. The application is invasive by nature because the government must determine if your family is under the income cap to qualify for federal aid. That income cap is about $20,000. If your parents make more than this amount, you won’t qualify for the Pell Grant. You have to include tax and financial information in the application for yourself and your parents. However, if you are over 24, then you can apply by yourself and demonstrate financial aid. The application will also take into consideration whether you are receiving any other types of cash assistance, whether you have any dependents and what your status is at your college, such as full-time enrollment or part-time.

Is It Possible to Get Around the Income Cap

You have to provide tax information for yourself and your parents. This will determine your income and give you an "Expected Contribution" number. If this number is very low, you will likely receive aid. However, you cannot get around the income cap if your income is too high. If you don’t include accurate tax information, you will be asked to send verification or proof of your taxes to the U.S. Department of Education. Your college may also require to see the verification to be able to set up a financial aid package for you. The best way to find out if you qualify is to simply apply and send your FAFSA on to your college. Even if you do not qualify for a Pell Grant, you may qualify for other scholarships and fellowships directly through your college.

Changes to Pell Grant in Recent Years

There also have been legislative changes to the Pell Grant. For one, the income cap was raised. There is also allowance for more questions to be skipped on the form, no minimum enrollment hours and the calculations for the Pell Grant are now for the higher of the two aid years. New regulations also state that schools must disburse Pell Grant funds by the seventh day of the start of the payment period. The maximum amount for Pell Grant awards as of the 2011-12 school year is $5,550 for an entire year. There are also recent talks of cutting the Pell Grant program significantly. However, none of these cuts have yet to be approved.

Other Ways that You May Not Be Eligible

Pell Grant is picky about who receives money. If you have any type of drug convictions, you may not be eligible for federal funding. If you had the drug conviction while you were receiving financial aid, it is even more likely that you will not receive any federal grant money. However, this depends on your own personal appeal and the decision can be reversed if you take remediation steps. You must also sign a statement that will guarantee you won’t use your aid for education to buy drugs or substances.

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