Pell Grants are one of the tools that financial aid officers have available to help make going to college less expensive. The government gives Pell Grants to undergraduate students who can prove they have financial need. Whether or not you have dependents, and how many you have, goes into determining your need. The greater your need, the bigger your Pell Grant, up to the limit.
Qualifying for a Pell Grant
In the simplest possible terms, you qualify for a Pell Grant when your cost of attendance for college is more than your expected family contribution. For instance, if you choose a school with a COA -- cost of attendance -- of $20,000 and your EFC -- expected family contribution -- is $10,000, you'd have $10,000 in financial need. The government calculates your financial need by looking at your income, your assets and the size of your household.
Independent vs. Dependent Student
Having even one dependent changes your status for Pell Grant eligibility. When you have a child or other dependent, the federal government automatically considers you an independent student. This means that your parents, their income and their assets don't come into play when determining whether or not you qualify for a Pell Grant or other financial aid. Without your parent's income, it's likely that your EFC will end up being much lower.
Dependents, Household Size and EFCs
Having a dependent changes the way that the government calculates your EFC based on your income. Based on the algorithm for the 2012-2013 year, the government considers less of your income and less of your assets than it would if you didn't have a dependent when determining how much you can afford to pay for your education. It also subtracts an income protection allowance from what you make to ensure that you have enough to live on. The more dependents you have in your household, the more of your income gets sheltered. The net effect of these is that having a dependent lowers your EFC, and having more than one lowers it even more. All of these make it more likely that you will qualify for a Pell Grant and can increase the grant's size.
Pell Grant Value
The value of a Pell Grant can change from year to year. For the 2013-2014 year, the maximum grant is $5,645, rising to $5,730 for the 2014-2015 year. If you already qualify for the maximum Pell Grant with one dependent, additional dependents won't change the amount you can receive. However, they could impact your availability for other aid, depending on your school's policy.
Steve Lander has been a writer since 1996, with experience in the fields of financial services, real estate and technology. His work has appeared in trade publications such as the "Minnesota Real Estate Journal" and "Minnesota Multi-Housing Association Advocate." Lander holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Columbia University.