A Guide to the Federal Pell Grant Program

Federal Pell Grants are a need-based financial aid program which provides assistance to low-income undergraduate students and promotes access to postsecondary education. They are the most common form of grant awarded to undergraduate students, and, unlike federal loan programs (Stafford, Perkins, etc.) they never need to be paid back.

The amount of money awarded through the Pell Grant Program depends on the student's "Expected Family Contribution" (EFC). Pell Grants are need-based, and are awarded to students whose EFC is very low.

Every year, the Pell Grant Program establishes a maximum amount which can be awarded to a student. This maximum amount is based on that year's amount of Federal funding allocated to the program. The amount of grant money awarded to each student is calculated based on the student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC), Cost of Attendance (COA), and attendance status (full-time, half-time, etc.).

The maximum Pell Grant amount for the 2013-2014 school year is $5,645.

There is no lifetime maximum amount which can be awarded to any given student. Any student who fulfills the criteria for eligibility, and is pursuing their first bachelor's degree, can receive funding from the Pell Grant Program, regardless of past Pell Grant awards.

The student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) determines the amount of Pell Grant money which can be awarded. The EFC is calculated based on the income and assets of the student and of the student's parents. The higher the EFC, the lower the Pell Grant amount. There's a maximum EFC level, above which students are no longer eligible to receive Pell Grants.

The maximum EFC level that can still receive aid from the Pell Grant Program for the 2013-2014 school year is $5,081.

The EFC is not the only factor which determines Pell Grant amounts; the student's Cost of Attendance (COA) for their institution affects the Pell Grant amount as well. The higher the COA, the higher the Pell Grant amount.

The student's attendance status is also considered when awarding Pell Grant funds. More money is awarded to full-time students, with progressively smaller amounts going to three-quarter time students, half-time students, and less-than-half-time students. The Pell Grant Program is one of the only programs providing federal aid to students attending college less than half-time.

For the 2013-2014 school year, full-time students can be awarded a maximum of $5,645; three-quarter time students can be awarded a maximum of $4,234; half-time students can be awarded a maximum of $2,823; and less-than-half-time students can be awarded a maximum of $1,411.

Although some graduate-level teacher credentialing programs are eligible for Pell Grant Awards, the program is mainly intended for undergraduate students.

Students who wish to apply for a Pell Grant must first complete the FAFSA form, which can be found at fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA determines eligibility not only for Pell Grants, but for other loan and aid programs as well. The FAFSA is processed by the Department of Higher Education's Office of Federal Student Aid, who then forwards the results to the student's school. The school's Financial Aid office then informs the student of his/her Pell Grant eligibility.

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