Those who graduate college and earn their degree will likely have many more opportunities in the future than those who don't. But, if you're looking to go to college after high school, you're probably concerned about a few things. For instance, which colleges you're going to apply to, which colleges you're going to be able to get into, SAT and ACT tests and filling out applications. The biggest concern of all, though? How to pay for school. Thankfully, the federal government is here to help.

What's a Pell Grant?

A Pell Grant is a form of financial assistance that's given to students who are in need based on their family's unique financial situation. When students go to college, they can apply for financial aid via the FAFSA application form. If the government determines that the student does need financial aid, they may be given loans and grants to help pay for school. There are several different types of grants, but a Pell Grant is the most common type, especially for undergraduate students.

How to Apply for a Pell Grant

In order to apply for the Pell Grant, you'll need to fill out the FAFSA form by the deadline. The FAFSA essentially works as a student loan locator and encompasses all types of financial assistance that can be potentially allocated to a student from the federal government. Therefore, you can't specifically apply for a Pell Grant. Instead, the government will review your information and see what you require in terms of money. If they decide you're in need of a Pell Grant, then you'll get one. Before applying, check to see if you're eligible. FAFSA offers a FAFSA4caster that estimates your eligibility for federal student aid before you apply. You must meet certain requirements, such as being a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, enrolling in an undergraduate program at a two-year or four-year accredited school and not having defaulted on any federal loans awarded to you in the past.

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The FAFSA form can be filled out and submitted online at the FAFSA.ed.gov website or by mail. You will need to have some information available, such as your parents' tax information, family expenses, income information, etc. Be sure to check the FAFSA website for the deadlines, as there are federal deadlines, state deadlines and specific college deadlines. To make sure you don't miss these, apply before the earliest deadline out of the three.

How Much is a Pell Grant?

The amount of money a student can get from a Pell Grant depends on quite a few factors, and each student can get something different than the next. First of all, the government will determine your family's financial need by using a special formula once you submit the FAFSA. Using this formula, they'll figure out your EFC, or Expected Family Contribution, which will be used to determine how much money you're eligible to receive.

Every year, there's a maximum amount of money in a Pell Grant that a student can receive. For the 2018-2019 year, that number was $6,095. This number changes each year, and it's important to remember that even those with the most financial need might not necessarily get that much. Pell Grant amounts are awarded on a first come, first served basis, which is another reason to get your FAFSA in as soon as possible.

Do Pell Grants Need to Be Paid Back?

The big question about Pell Grants isn't necessarily how much you're going to get but whether or not they need to be paid back. Ultimately, a Pell Grant is a gift of free money and doesn't need to be paid back at all. However, there are certain situations in which you may be asked to "return the gift" and, essentially, be required to pay it back, according to the studentaid.ed.gov website:

  • You withdrew from the program of which the grant was given to you.
  • Your enrollment status changed from full time to part time, reducing the amount of money you would need from the grant.
  • You've received outside scholarships, and you no longer need the Pell Grant as a form of financial assistance.
  • You failed out of school.
  • You're convicted of a drug-related offense while receiving aid.

If you keep your student enrollment status and you work hard in school, you shouldn't have to worry about paying back your Pell Grant.

About the Author

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. She has spent the last 5 years traveling the world and living abroad and has lived in South Korea and Israel. Before becoming a writer, Hana worked as a teacher for several years. Hana studying Elementary/Special Education for her undergraduate degree and is certified in K-6 Elementary and K-12 Special Education, as well as TESOL. Hana enjoys reading, cooking, and watching foreign films.