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Pell Grant Eligibility: Do You Qualify?

By Will Geiger

Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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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: March 4th, 2024
Pell Grant Eligibility: Do You Qualify?

Pell Grant eligibility specifically depends on a student’s demonstrated financial need. This makes them a very valuable source of financial aid for students who qualify for need-based aid. Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about Pell Grants!

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are financial aid provided by the federal government and eligibility depends on a students’ demonstrated financial need. The Pell Grant originated through the Higher Education Act of 1965 and was part of a broader aim to improve higher education opportunities for lower and middle-income students.

We will be covering the following questions in this Pell Grant guide:

  • How do I apply for a Pell Grant?
  • When is the deadline for applying for a Pell Grant?
  • Do I qualify for a Pell Grant?
  • What’s the maximum amount of money I could get through a Pell Grant?
  • Do students need to pay a Pell Grant back?
  • What is the Pell Grant lifetime limit?

How do I apply for a Pell Grant?

To apply for Pell Grants, as well as other need-based financial aid, students need to submit a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). In order to qualify for the Pell Grant for subsequent years, students will need to resubmit the FAFSA. 


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When is the deadline for applying for a Pell Grant?

There isn’t necessarily a deadline for Pell, however, you should complete the FAFSA as soon as you possibly can. FAFSA is used as an application for many other financial aid programs that may have deadlines or limited funds. 

Students should apply by the FAFSA deadlines. The Federal FAFSA deadline is June 30th, but there are state specific deadlines that can vary depending on your state of residence. 

Each college will also have a FAFSA deadline that you’ll want to meet to ensure your financial aid is available to pay for the upcoming semester.

Related: Do I have to pay back my Pell Grant if I drop out of college?

Do I qualify for a Pell Grant?

Pell Grant eligibility is determined by a variety of factors including:

As mentioned earlier, students must re-submit the FAFSA each year to maintain their eligibility. Students must also meet certain academic requirements at their college or university.

Related: How do I get my Pell Grant refund?

What’s the maximum amount of money I could get through a Pell Grant?

The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $7,395 for the 2023–24 award year, from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024.

You will need to check back every year to see how much you will qualify for. For example, legislation from the Biden administration pushed up the amount you can receive by over $400 between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years.

Also see: How to read a financial aid award letter

Do students need to pay a Pell Grant back?

Nope! Like other need-based grants, Pell Grants do not need to be paid back. This makes them a valuable part of your financial aid package! So if you graduate or have to take a leave from school, you will not be responsible for paying back a dime of your grant.

Related: Do you have to pay back money from the FAFSA?

What is the Pell Grant lifetime limit?

Students are eligible to use the grants for up to 12 academic semesters. This means that students can receive the Pell Grant for about six years. At the 2023-2024 academic year maximum rate, that would put your lifetime Pell Grant amount at $44,370.

As Pell Grants are awarded on a half year basis, if you are only in school for a semester, that will only count as a single semester or term.

Additionally, once you have received your undergraduate degree or your first professional degree you are no longer eligible to receive a Pell Grant.

Bottom line for students:

Pell Grants are simply another great reason to fill out the FAFSA! For students with demonstrated financial need, this is one of the most important foundations for your overall financial aid package.

Since this grant money does not need to be repaid and can be renewed for up to twelve college semesters. Over four years of college, these grants could be worth nearly $25,000! This is no small chunk of change and can be a meaningful way to keep your debt down!

Don’t forget scholarships!

Though Pell Grants are a great way to fund your college education, they typically only make a dent in the cost of school. That’s why it’s important to look to many sources for funding. Besides grants, scholarships are always the best source to look to since you won’t have to pay them back. Check out our scholarships for high school seniors, our scholarship search database, and our writing and essay scholarships to get a start! You can also browse scholarships by state and look for some easy scholarships to apply to.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • A Pell Grant is a form of financial aid that is given depending on your demonstrated need
  • In order to receive a Pell Grant, you have to fill out FAFSA every year to maintain your eligibility
  • Be sure to stay on top of your state and college deadlines for FAFSA to ensure that you receive financial aid for a given school year
  • Recipients of the Pell Grant do not have to pay back any of the funds they receive
  • Students can only receive a Pell Grant if they are pursuing an undergraduate degree, but the grant can extend to up to six years
  • The maximum amount for the Pell Grant can change from year to year, but currently the maximum is $7,395
  • This grant is a great way to supplement your financial aid package, but be sure to still apply for scholarships to lower your cost of attendance
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about Pell Grant eligibility

Why do I need to keep applying for FAFSA every year?

Things are always changing, and some of those yearly fluctuations can impact your financial aid package. Your circumstances might change or the Pell Grant maximum amount could go up or down, so filling out your FAFSA each year can determine what you currently need to get through college.

If I fail a class, do I have to pay the Pell Grant back?

Not necessarily. In order to receive the Pell Grant, you have to stay on top of your grades and have positive academic progress. Therefore, leaving school or failing classes may put you in a position to lose or pay back the grant.

Can part-time students receive Pell Grants?

Yes, part-time students are awarded Pell Grants. However, the dollar amount awarded is based on the number of credit hours students are enrolled in. The amount of the Pell Grant is based on full-time, three-quarter-time, half-time, and even less than half-time.

Can Pell Grants be used for graduate studies?

No, Pell Grants are not available for graduate students. Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students pursuing a first bachelor’s degree or vocational/certificate programs that meet certain criteria.

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