Pell Grants, in Plain English | 03.08.10
The Pell Grant is an excellent award set up for financially needy students to help afford the cost of college. It is maintained by the federal government, and acts differently than other financial aid offerings.
How does a Pell Grant work?
Pell Grants are based entirely off of the information presented on a student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form. They are meant for low-income students, and do not need to be repaid unless the student drops out of their degree program. One additional criteria to qualify for a Pell Grant is that the student must be pursuing his or her first bachelors degree. This means that if you are going back to school for another bachelors or are taking classes casually, you will not qualify for a Pell Grant.
In addition, your school must participate in the Direct Loan or FFEL programs for you to qualify for a Pell Grant. Check with your school’s financial aid department to see if they are approved to receive Pell Grants for their students.
Pell Grant Awards
For the 2010-11 academic year (Fall 2010 to Spring 2011), the maximum you can receive through a Pell Grant award is set at $5,350. As I said before, your individual award is largely based on the information presented in your FAFSA, but also on the total cost of attendance reported by your school. To receive the most you can from the program, you ideally want to show low family income and high cost of attendance at your chosen college.
Because of these very strict requirements, the Pell Grant is typically only seen in the aid reports of very financially-needy students. If you are an independent, low-income student, the chances of receiving one of these awards is much better than if you were reporting the income of family members on your FAFSA as well.
This can be tricky for most students, as you are forced to include your parents’ income on your FAFSA until you are 24 years old. However, if you live apart from your family, don’t have a relationship with them, and support yourself, you can legally emancipate yourself to greatly boost how much need-based financial aid you receive (assuming you are low-income, yourself.) I personally would not recommend this, but if you are in a dire enough situation that you desperately need the financial aid, a legal emancipation will strip away your parents’ ability to report you on their taxes, and therefore lower your income for the purposes of filing your FAFSA and receiving more need-based aid.
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