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A federal Pell Grant can help low-income students afford the cost of college without adding on debt

  • A federal Pell Grant is for undergraduate students with exceptional financial need.
  • You can find out if you qualify by filling out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • If you’re eligible, you can receive up to $6,495 for the 2021–22 award year. 
  • Read more of Insider’s student loan coverage here. 

If you have significant financial need and have to cover the cost of college, a federal Pell Grant might be a good choice for you. You don’t have to repay a federal Pell Grant, so it’s typically a better option than student loans.

Who is eligible for a Pell Grant?

Usually, Pell Grants are given only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and haven’t already earned a degree. Graduate students aren’t usually eligible, but an exception may be made if you’re enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program. You can’t qualify for a Pell Grant if you’re incarcerated or are convicted of sexual offenses.

Even if you’re not sure you qualify for a Pell Grant, it’s still worth applying — you never know what you may be eligible for. 

How do you apply for a Pell Grant?

You’ll need to fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, to apply for a Pell Grant. You’ll complete this online form and will need to have the following information ready to go:

  • Social Security number
  • Your federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money you’ve earned
  • Bank statements and investment records (if applicable)
  • Records of untaxed income
  • A Federal Student Aid ID
  • If you’re not a US citizen, your alien registration number

Funding for Pell Grants doesn’t run out over the course of the year, unlike some other grants and scholarships. While you should still strive to submit your FAFSA sooner rather than later, rest assured that as long as you get your application in before the deadline — which is June 30, 2022, for the 2021-22 school year — you will still be able to get aid. 

You can check the status of your FAFSA by signing in to your account on FAFSA.gov.

How much money can you receive?

You can receive between $650 and $6,495 for the 2021–22 award year. This amount may change with each new application cycle. The exact amount of aid you’ll receive is determined by the information you provide on your FAFSA, including the cost of attendance, your status as a full or part-time student, and your Expected Family Contribution (the amount of money the government thinks you can afford to pay). 

Keep in mind that you may get a Pell Grant for no more than 12 school terms, or about six years, and you’ll receive a heads up if you’re nearing your limit. You’ll need to submit the FAFSA each year to continue to get these funds. 

How will you get paid?

There are a few ways you can get your Pell Grant funds. Your school can put the money toward your educational costs, pay you directly, or some combination of the two.

The school will tell you in writing how much your award will be and how and when you’ll be paid. Your school must give you the funds once per term or twice during the academic year.

Pell Grants aren’t taxable income. 

What do you need to do to keep the grant?

To keep your grant, you usually need to maintain enrollment in an undergraduate course of study and stay in good academic standing — which may require you to hit certain GPA minimums, depending on the institution. You’ll also have to fill out the FAFSA for each school year. After you’ve graduated or have reached your 12 terms of eligibility, you’re no longer able to get a Pell Grant.

If you have exceptional financial need, a Pell Grant can help make college affordable for you — all without saddling you with debt. 

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