Free money for college might sound too good to be true, but that's what the Pell Grant offers to those who meet financial, enrollment and eligibility qualifications. How much you get depends on where you go to school, how much your school costs and what the government decides your family can contribute. You won't know how big your Pell Grant is until you apply and get an award letter from your school.
Uncle Sam's Stipulation
The government puts a limit on how much Pell Grant money you can get. For the 2014-2015 school year, that limit is $5,730. However, the amount could change, since Congress votes on Pell Grant awards yearly. One of the biggest factors affecting how much Pell Grant you can get is how much Congress approves. However, Congress won't change the maximum amount in the middle of the school year or cut your award if it overspends its budget.
From Financial Need to Funding
You can only get a Pell Grant if you demonstrate financial need, but that doesn't mean you have to be living in poverty. It means your expected family contribution -- the amount the government estimates your family can give toward your education -- is less than your school's tuition and school-related fees. So, if it costs $8,000 to attend your school each year, and your expected family contribution is $1,000, your financial need is $7,000. The total cost of your need-based federal aid, including your Pell Grant and need-based federal loans, can't be more than your financial need. Your family's EFC is calculated using a government-designed formula that changes each year.
Credit Hours Equal Cash
The number of credit hours you take affects how much Pell Grant money you can get. If you're taking at least 12 credit hours of classes that count toward your degree, you can get the full Pell Grant award that you're entitled to based on your financial need. Going to school part time cuts that amount by a percentage. If you take nine to 11 credit hours, you get three-quarters of your grant award. Take six to eight credit hours, and you get half of your grant award. Finally, you'll only get one quarter of your grant award if you're enrolled less than half time by taking one to five credit hours. If you drop classes after you get your money, you have to pay it back.
Meeting Requirements to Make Money
You have to meet both Pell Grant and federal student aid eligibility requirements if you want free college money. To qualify for the Pell Grant you must be working on your first bachelor's degree and can't be in jail or have been convicted of certain sex offenses. You're eligible for federal student aid if you have a GED, are enrolled or accepted at a post-secondary school, have a Social Security number, haven't defaulted on a federal student loan and don't owe a refund on a federal grant. If you're a male between the ages of 18 and 25, you must also register for selective service to qualify.
- U.S. Department of Education: Federal Pell Grant Program
- Federal Student Aid: Federal Pell Grants
- University of Georgia: Federal Pell Grant
- Federal Student Aid: 2012-2013 Pell Grant Payment and Disbursement Schedule
- New America Foundation: Federal Pell Grant Program
- Federal Student Aid: How Aid is Calculated
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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