Pell Grants provide funds to college students for tuition, fees and other expenses such as books. Few students receive funds beyond tuition and fees with a Pell Grant. However, if you receive other financial aid such as scholarships or loans, you may have money leftover after all your school costs have been paid. Since Pell funds go directly to the college or university you attend, the school would refund any remaining money to you.
The maximum Pell Grant as of the 2010-2011 school year is $5,550, with your college distributing half your award each semester. While the grant is need based, the average award is only about half of the maximum. You must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be eligible and your expected family contribution also is taken into account when determining your grant amount.
The scheduled award is not necessarily the amount of your Pell grant. The figure calculates your award as a full-time student. If you cannot get the classes you want or do not schedule a full course load, your Pell amount will be lowered. This amount is credited to your account and you receive notification of the total.
Pell Grants are not available when the semester starts, but colleges and universities delay tuition payments until the funds arrive, usually in late October for the fall semester. Confirmation of attendance is required and the university also waits until after the deadline for dropping and adding classes passes to confirm the student’s full-time status. The college may send Pell Grant funds directly to the billing office and the student gets a receipt for payment of tuition and fees. The university refunds any excess grant and scholarship funds to the student.
Keep accurate records of your college expenses, as you may be able to take federal income tax credit for costs not covered by grants and scholarships. You also will need to complete the FAFSA annually, since Pell awards are per academic year. Start a file and drop all of your receipts and reconciliations from your college into it for your records.