Federal Pell Grants are forms of government student financial aid assistance provided to prospective low-income undergraduate students (and post baccalaureate students who will become licensed teachers) in order to help them with the cost of tuition, assorted matriculation fees, and needed study materials. Pell Grant do not need to be paid back, and the award amounts are determined by the level to which the students' family can be expected to contribute to the cost of schooling, the cost of enrollment at the specified university, whether the student will be matriculated part or full time, and the length of time the prospective student will be attending school. The grant money can be used towards tuition and fees incurred at any of the 5,400 postsecondary institutions which accept Pell Grant funding. As of July 1, 2011, the maximum Pell Grant award was $5,550, and this amount is awarded per semester to the student, or twice per year, depending on the school.
There are a handful of basic, across-the-board requirements which prospective students must meet to receive any type of federal financial aid, including Pell Grants, before matters of financial need are addresses. First, the prospective student must be a U.S. citizen with a valid Social Security Number, who has also registered with the Selective Service. Second, the prospective student must have a high school diploma or GED. Third, the institution to which the prospective student is applying must be a participating institution which accepts Pell Grant awards as payment towards tuition and matriculation fees. Fourth, based on standards set forth in the Higher Education Act of 1965, students who are convicted under state or federal law of the sale or possession of drugs, while they are enrolled and receiving financial aid, will no longer be eligible for Pell Grant funding.
As stated earlier, financial aid is the primary factor when the U.S. Department of Education decides who is eligible for the Pell Grant. The U.S. Department of Education determines the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to the student’s education expenses by adding the family income remaining after basic living expenses and taxes are subtracted to the family assets remaining after subtracting asset protection allowance. The information which the U.S. Department of Education uses in these calculations is taken from the information which the student supplies in the process of filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After the EFC is calculated from the FAFSA information, the prospective student will receive a Student Aid Report notifying them whether they are eligible for the Pell Grant based on this EFC calculation.
Lastly, prospective students applying for Pell Grants should bear in mind that in order to continue receiving Pell Grant funds, the student in question must maintain a satisfactory level of academic achievement. Failure on the part of the student to maintain academic standards will result in the cessation of Pell Grant funding.