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Do You Have to Pay Back Pell Grants if You Drop Out of College?

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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and Cait Williams

Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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Reviewed by Annie Trout

Annie has spent the past 18+ years educating students about college admissions opportunities and coaching them through building a financial aid package. She has worked in college access and college admissions for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission/Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation, Middle Tennessee State University, and Austin Peay State University.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: January 26th, 2024
Do You Have to Pay Back Pell Grants if You Drop Out of College?

The Pell Grant is an invaluable resource for students who are financing their college education. However, college does not always go exactly as planned and sometimes students are unable to finish their degree program. As a student who took advantage of Pell Grant funds, you may be left wondering, “Do you have to pay back Pell Grants if you drop out of school?” The answer can depend on a couple of factors. In this article, we’ll help you find out where you’ll stand with Pell Grants if you drop out.

Also see: What happens to loans if you drop out of college?

What is the Pell Grant?

The Pell Grant is a need-based federal financial aid grant. Students who demonstrate financial need through the FAFSA can receive up to $7,395 per year as of 2023. They do not need to pay this money back, and do not have to pay taxes on it. It also comes with no academic stipulations; there is no minimum GPA or other requirement to earn it. You only need to demonstrate financial need.

Students can use Pell Grants to fund any undergraduate accredited educational program. So, whether you are pursuing a community college degree, a four-year degree, or even a qualifying undergraduate certificate program, you may be able to take advantage of the Pell Grant.

Remember, your Pell Grant eligibility is determined year-by-year; your previous year eligibility has no bearing on whether you will qualify in the following year. So, don’t count on getting the same amount for every year of your undergraduate education; if your finances dip, you may qualify for more, and vice-versa.

Dropping out mid-semester vs. between semesters

So, when considering the question “Do you have to pay back Pell Grants if you drop out of college,” you’ll have to consider one key distinction. This is, are you dropping out of college mid-semester, or instead, choosing not to return for your upcoming semester?

Dropping out between semesters

If you drop out of college between semesters and have not yet paid for your upcoming semester or taken out Pell Grant funds, you have nothing to worry about. You will not have to pay back any of your Pell Grant funds. Since you completed the semesters for which you drew out your funds, you are entirely in the clear.

Dropping out mid-semester

If you are dropping out in the middle of a semester you have not yet completed, things may be a little bit more complicated. That’s because your Pell Grant funds are tailored to fit your enrollment status; they are designated for you to complete a certain course load, and if you do not complete it, you will have to repay the funds.

This can change on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, even if you don’t drop out entirely, but instead, withdraw from classes and reduce your course load from full-time to half-time, you’ll have to pay back a portion of your Pell Grant.

In any of these cases, you’ll want to be sure that you check in with your school’s financial aid office before making any big decisions. Although the Pell Grant policy is set on a federal level, it is up to the individual schools to execute these rules, and some schools may have different policies on repayment than others.

Will I lose eligibility for future Pell Grants if I drop out?

Dropping out of college or withdrawing from classes does not cause you to lose eligibility for future Pell Grants. However, it’s important to note that students do have a lifetime Pell Grant limit, equivalent to six full years of Pell Grant funding. The vast majority of students complete their undergraduate degree before approaching this limit. But, if you find yourself withdrawing multiple times from school and/or changing majors, it is possible to approach this limit, so be sure to keep this in mind.

Making the decision to drop out

Dropping out of college can be a complex decision that is extremely difficult to make. There are many factors that can go into a decision like this, so students should not take it lightly. Oftentimes, external circumstances can force students to redirect their efforts elsewhere, such as taking care of their family, their own needs, or medical issues. Check out our guide on what to consider when dropping out of college for factors to consider when making your decision. Remember, you can always “drop in” and earn your college degree if that is your ultimate goal.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Pell Grants are available for eligible students enrolled in accredited bachelor’s degree, associate degree, and certificate programs
  • Your status as a full time or part time student will impact the amount of funding you may receive
  • Students who drop out mid semester may have to pay back the Pell Grant, while those who complete a semester are unlikely to need to pay it back
  • Students can use the Pell Grant for six full years of funding
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about paying back Pell Grants

Do I have to repay my Pell Grant if I fail a course?

If you fail a course, you will not have to repay the Pell Grant that you took out for it. Although failing a course can have drastic effects on your GPA and hurt your transcript, it will not require repayment of any Pell Grant funds.

Do I have to repay my Pell Grant if I drop from full-time to part-time enrollment?

You may have to repay part of your Pell Grant if you drop from full-time to part-time enrollment mid-semester. If you change enrollment status between semesters, you will qualify for less Pell Grant money the following semester. However, you usually won’t have to repay anything that you’ve already received.

What happens to my Pell Grant if I withdraw from a course?

Withdrawing from a class doesn’t mean that your Pell Grant will change. What is more important is if your status as a part time or full time student changes. Let’s say you are taking a heavy load of 18 credit hours this semester. If you decide a few weeks into the semester to drop a course, your Pell Grant most likely will not be affected. However, if you are at the credit amount needed for full time status, and dropping a class puts you below full time status, that may affect the amount of funding you receive.

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