The federal Education Department administers the Pell Grant program, overseeing decisions on eligibility for individual grants and distributing student awards to colleges and universities. Several factors, such as family income and assets, number of children in the family going to college and family size affect the amount of individual student grants.

Time Frame

When you are determined eligible to receive a Pell Grant to attend an undergraduate institution, your grant amount is for the year. This amount is divided in half, with the first half awarded to you at the beginning of the term you first start school and the second half awarded in the following term. Your college applies your Pell Grant funds to your school costs for the current term, then pays you anything left over. You may be directly paid the entire grant amount for the term or the college may combine these methods.

Identification

The Pell Grant is federal financial aid awarded to students who are able to prove financial need to attend an eligible financial institution. You apply for a Pell Grant by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which compiles your parents’ financial information and yours, if you are independent. The Education Department uses this financial information to determine first, if you are eligible, and second, how much you are eligible to receive. You receive a Student Aid Report that includes your Pell Grant Eligibility information for the upcoming academic year. This grant money is considered as a foundation upon which additional financial aid can be awarded.

Considerations

The Pell Grant is awarded to you after you have proven financial need. Since this grant is not a loan, you don’t have to repay the funds after graduation. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not yet earned their undergraduate or professional degrees, although students enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teaching-certification program may qualify for funding.

Function

A portion of your Pell Grant is used to pay for your academic costs –– tuition and fees –– at the start of the academic year. It doesn’t matter if you start school in the spring term; as long as you have been determined to be eligible to receive a grant, your college will receive the funds and use them to pay for your tuition and fees, then cut a check for the remainder of that term's award. The remaining portion is awarded in the second half of the academic year and paid in the same way.

For the 2010-2011 academic year, the Pell Grant was modified, allowing you to receive funding for every semester in every part of the calendar year, including full summer sessions.

Eligibility

You need to meet specific qualifications to be eligible for a Pell Grant. These qualifications include U.S. citizenship, qualification as a U.S. national or eligible noncitizen, and possession of a Social Security number. You can’t have a jail term in your past; if you were charged with a drug-related crime, you need to show proof of remedying your past, usually by participating in an approved drug rehabilitation program. You cannot default on Pell Grant awards and, if you received an overpayment of a Pell Grant, you should show proof that you paid this back.

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