The rising cost of higher education excludes many students who can't afford high tuition rates and don't wish to take out sizable loans. Grants, which don't require repayment, can mean the difference between a college education and an alternate career path for a student. But grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant, are only available to students who qualify. All others that apply will receive denials and need to pursue college funding elsewhere.

General Ineligibility

Students who don't qualify for general federal student aid can't receive Pell Grants. This means that if you fail to meet basic eligibility standards for general aid, your Pell Grant application will result in a denial of funds. Student aid eligibility depends on having a valid Social Security number, being a legal resident or having immigration status, holding a high school diploma or equivalency credential and being registered with the Selective Service if legally required to do so.


Pell Grants and other forms of student aid are also only available to students with financial need. Individual schools calculate need based on the estimated cost of attendance and a student's or family's ability to contribute to paying that cost. Students whose assets and income, or those of their parents if they are financially dependent, exceed need-based guidelines will receive Pell Grant and student aid denials. Need-based guidelines vary for each school based on the cost of tuition and other academic fees.

Degree Status

If you already have a college degree, the federal government will deny your application for a Pell Grant. This is because the Pell Grant program is only open to vocational and undergraduate students who have not yet earned degrees. A professional degree or bachelor's degree automatically disqualifies you from Pell Grant funding unless you plan to enroll in a teaching program that leads to certification. This policy opens the Pell Grant program to as many new college students as possible, including those who otherwise would never be able to afford an education beyond public high school.


Unlike some other forms of student loans and grants, Pell Grants are not available to individuals in prison. This provision applies to individuals in both state and federal penal institutions, including those who have enrolled or are planning to enroll in college programs that accept incarcerated students. Students who qualify for financial aid but later receive drug convictions also forfeit their aid and become ineligible for Pell Grants.

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