Pell grants are a form of federal student aid that does not need to be paid back, unlike federal Stafford Loans, which must eventually be paid back. Pell grants are awarded on a student's financial need, based on information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA that is filed annually. Pell grants are calculated annually, but may be disbursed more frequently.
Pell grant amounts are awarded on a yearly basis, according to a student's financial need for the year, the projected cost of tuition for the year and whether a student plans to attend school on a full-time or part-time basis. When the U.S. Department of Education awards a student Pell grant funding, that funding is awarded for the entire year. As of the 2013-2014 academic year, a student can receive an annual Pell grant award of up to $5,645.
Colleges and universities are responsible for disbursing federal student aid, so the frequency with which Pell grant funds are disbursed depends on the policies of the college a student attends. Most commonly, the Pell grant award is split into two or three equal amounts and disbursed at the beginning of each semester or trimester.