The Pell grant is US financial aid given to US citizens for attending further education, usually degree level education or college based education, the grant does not have to be paid back and is assessed on the students and the students families financial situation, The maximum Pell grant available is $5,500 US dollars per year.
The Pell grant is a US entitlement all students are eligible to apply for a Pell grant and will receive some money, the amount of money they receive depends on how well off the student and the family are deemed to be, to get a Pell grant a student and the students family must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application form which can be completed online at the FAFSA website.
The information given on the FAFSA form will then be used to determine how much financial aid will be given to the student with the maximum amount available per year being $5,500 dollars, the grant does not have to be repaid and there is no requirement to repay the grant as it is not a loan but an entitlement to all US citizens to use for furthering their education.
Student Financial Aid
The Pell grant is considered to be the cornerstone of the students financial aid package where other sources of financial aid are added to the Pell grant, in most cases these other sources of finance are meant to be the students family or a part time job obtained by the student or other grants, loans or scholarships obtained by the student.
If a student has a criminal record and has been to prison they may still be eligible for a Pell grant but there will be a reduction in the money available or other limiting factors on the grant, it must be said that just because you have been to prison does not mean that you will not get a Pell grant or that your Pell grant will be reduced the individual circumstances and the severity of the criminal offence will be considered when you apply for a Pell grant.
It's worth noting that if you obtain a Pell grant and then commit a crime and are found guilty and go to jail or have a criminal conviction then you might lose your Pell grant or have the amount reduced, all students must reapply for their Pell grant every year, the grant will last for a maximum of six years and it's at the point of reapplication that any financial aid reduction would be made due to a criminal offence having been committed by the student.
It's not only criminal offences that can cause a Pell grant to be denied or reduced but also a conviction for drug taking or supply, again the severity of the conviction will determine by how much the Pell grant is reduced or if a Pell grant is given at all, just because you have a criminal conviction or a drugs conviction does not mean that you should not apply for a Pell grant as all applications are considered individually.
The Pell grant was named after Senator Claiborne Pell, however it came to be known by the name Pell grant after many years, the original name for the grant was the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, Pell grants have increased the number of low and middle income students attending university or college, whilst the grant is meant for a first degree the grant can also be used for second degree study and again suitability is decided at the time of application for the Pell grant.
Whilst the maximum Pell grant given per year is $5,500 dollars the minimum amount of the grant is just $500 dollars, the amount of grant you get will be determined by how rich you and your family are, if you are poor and have no criminal convictions or drug convictions you will likely get the full grant award of $5,500 dollars per year.
Six Year Pell Grant
Students can have six years of Pell grant so that's a maximum of $33,000 dollars over a six year period, the money can be paid in several ways, usually the university or school will deduct the cost of education and any cost of student housing directly from the Pell grant paying the student the remainder of the grant usually by cheque, the remainder paid to the student is for books, computers and living expenses.
Alternatively the Pell grant may be paid directly to you as a lump sum cheque per year and you will be required to pay the school, college or university for the course fees each year, you must sign a declaration to say that you will only use the Pell grant to pay for your education and that you have no outstanding educational loans at the time you have obtained the Pell grant.
Pell grants are only available for US citizens to study at US universities, if you are a US citizen but wish to study abroad then a Fulbright scholarship might be a better choice or some other form of scholarship such as the Coca Cola scholarship, but if you only intend to study in the USA then the Pell grant is the best choice, because it is an entitlement grant you will get some money from the Pell grant where as other scholarships are merit based where you have to prove that you are the best student to receive the scholarship.
Pell Grant is Not a Loan
The benefit of a Pell grant is that it is not a loan, there is no interest rate and nothing to repay, you will not usually be denied a Pell grant (unless you have drugs or criminal convictions), many other countries have some sort of student loan system whereby you can borrow money from the government and then pay it back when you are earning but few countries have a totally free grant system like the USA, so if you are eligible (most US citizens will be) then you should complete the FAFSA application form and see how much you are entitled too.
If you are from a middle income family and your family are prepared to help finance your degree the Pell grant and your family contribution might be all that you need, alternatively if you are able to get a party time job to help pay for living expenses and accommodation then the Pell grant will just about cover your yearly expenditure (when toped up with a part time job), I appreciate exact costs between colleges are different so this might not be the case in all colleges and universities.
Consider living at home and attending your local college or university, your living expenses will be much cheaper and with your Pell grant you might just be able to cover the cost of your education each year whilst living at home.
The Pell Grant is Worth $5,500 Per Year
Approximately nine million Pell grants are made each year, some will be for the full $5,500 dollars per year whilst a great many will be for smaller amounts of money, whether you decide to attend university full or part-time will greatly influence the amount of Pell money you receive with full time courses attracting more grant money than part time coursers because on a part time course you are required to have a part time job to supplement your Pell grant.
It must be stressed that the Pell grant is only available for US citizens to attend a US university, if you are an international student looking to study abroad then you will not be able to apply for a Pell grant even if you hope to study in the USA as you will need to be a US citizen prior to applying for a Pell grant.
With a total of six years available for study under a Pell grant if you choose your degree course wisely you may be able to get your Pell grant to pay for both your undergraduate and postgraduate degree programme by choosing a postgraduate degree which is bolted onto a undergraduate degree, as long as the degree programme is an extension rather than a completely new programme and there are no gaps between the undergraduate and the postgraduate portions of study then you may be able to get a Pell grant to include both the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, all Pell grants are for selected US educational institutions, if when you make your application for a Pell grant you find an institution listed with a combined undergraduate and postgraduate degree then choose this programme to make the best use of your Pell grant, again as long as the period of study can be completed within six years (the maximum allowed time for study with a Pell degree).
Apply for a Pell Grant
When you first apply for a Pell grant you must be considering undergraduate study, that means having not yet started your undergraduate study, so if combining a undergraduate and a postgraduate programme with the aim of paying for your education with the Pell grant then make sure it is a continuous undergraduate programme, if it is listed on the FAFSA website then you should be alright.
Your need to be between the ages of 18 and 25 to apply for a Pell grant and you need to maintain sufficient academic progress which means you shouldn't fail the year for your Pell grant to continue, but other than that and not getting any criminal convictions or drugs convictions then the Pell grant should continue year on year for a maximum of six years, although you will need to reapply for a Pell grant each year, the reapplication process is a lot less time consuming than the initial application as on the yearly reapplication form you just need to say that nothing has changed in your academic or financial status.
You cannot apply for more than one Pell grant at a time so you cannot for example attend one college or university and take a undergraduate degree and then attend another college or university and take another undergraduate degree at the same time, you may be able to take one undergraduate degree and then continue on another undergraduate degree all funded by the Pell programme, this is usually the case when a student undertakes one course of study and discovers that they are not best suited to the subject or the school and are allowed to change.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Whether the student can change degree programmes or schools in the middle of their Pell grant will be determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the people who administer the Pell programme, show hardship and a real reason for the change and your likely to succeed, if your unable to show a legitimate reason for the change in degree programme or school, for example if you where to say that you 'just fancied a change' you would probably be unlikely to persuade the Pell programme to continue funding your education as it would be seen that you have already received a grant for one course of study and chose to change for 'no good reason'.
International students will not have US citizenship so will be unable to apply for a Pell grant, even if they are resident in the United States already on a degree course, firstly you need to apply for a Pell grant before you undertake your undergraduate degree and secondly international students will not have US citizenship and will not be able to apply, additionally not all universities and schools are eligible for a Pell grant, so you need to make sure that your course and school are on the official FAFSA list.
If you are a US citizen and wish to attend a US school or university for a undergraduate degree then always apply for a Pell grant, it is a right, you will get some money, the only uncertainly is exactly how much money you will get as this is dependent on you and your families financial position.
If you are still at a US high school in your final year you will be able to get a Pell application form from your school or you can fill in the application online at the FAFSA website.