Gaining Eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant Program

The key to figuring out your Pell Grant eligibility for the upcoming school year is to first learn about what that really means. Most students fail to invest the time that is needed to understand the intricacies of the Federal Pell Grant Program and therefore fail when it comes time to become eligible for the upcoming school year.

The truth is that simply asking yourself the question, “am I eligible for this grant award?” isn’t enough, and to fulfill the federal specific eligibility criteria you must take into account both the fundamentals of this grant award, and your own situation. This is the only true way of putting yourself in the best position to become eligible, and the students that take the time to do this are typically the ones that come out as winners when all is said and done.

That being said, you first must understand what this type of financial aid is. A Pell Grant is a federal grant that is given on an annual basis to students who demonstrate a significant financial need for such aid. Because it is a grant, it never has to be paid back like the majority of student loans that are in existence, and because it is approved on an annual basis, you can qualify each year that you are in school.

Applying is actually very simple, as you only have to fill out a FAFSA, the government’s universal application for federal student aid. By filling out a FAFSA you automatically put yourself in the running for this grant award, although to improve your chances at receiving the grant it is always best to learn about what it takes to become eligible before you apply so that you can take the necessary steps to optimize your application.

Determining Your Eligibility For A Pell Grant

Determining your eligibility is about first understanding how the Department of Education evaluates your financial need for the award, and then taking the time to go over the variety of requirements to make sure that you can pass each one. The primary way the Department of Education determines your financial need is by way of the EFC metric, also known as the expected family contribution.

The EFC is supposed to be a direct representation of what your family can contribute towards you postsecondary education-related expenses, and the lower it is, the better your chances are at becoming eligible for the Pell Grant. The maximum cutoff threshold that is used is 5,486, as anything higher than this figure will automatically prevent you from becoming eligible for the award.

Your EFC is calculated with the use of the information you provided by filing out a FAFSA. This information is then inserted into a formula that eventually produces your EFC.

The specific factors that are used to determine your EFC via this formula include the following:

  • Your parent’s income (and assets if your are a dependent)
  • Your income (and assets if you are an independent)
  • The size of your family’s household
  • The number of family members attending postsecondary institutions
  • Other factors: your parents’ age, whether both parents work, the status of your parents’ income taxes for the previous year

Once all of this information is collected, a formula is used to calculate your EFC. To give you an idea of the kind of income ranges that will give you the best chance at qualifying for the award the majority of Pell Grants are awarded to students that come from families who make less than 30,000 dollars per year.

Some grants are awarded to students who come from families that make in-between 30,000 and 60,000 dollars per year, and while it is not impossible to get qualify if your family makes more than 60,000 dollars per year, it is highly unlikely.

Remember that the only number you need to keep in mind if you simply want to know your eligibility is 5,486, as this is the cutoff threshold for becoming eligible. The actual amount that you are eventually able to be approved for has to do with a variety of other factors, including your EFC, the cost of attendance for going to your school, and your enrollment status.

Upon the establishment of your eligibility your school will then go over your FAFSA and other relevant material to determine the actual amount that you are able to receive from their available funding reserve. In the end your EFC plays the biggest role in determining the specific amount that you are approved for.

Working Through the Eligibility Requirements

There is still more to the story though, as you must still satisfy the list of eligibility requirements if you want to become eligible for the Pell Grant. These are simply a list of qualifiers that you must provide the correct answer for in order to become eligible for the appropriate award year.

The following is a list of the most important requirements that you need to pay attention to:

  • You must be attending a participating postsecondary institution, as there are currently about 5,400 colleges and universities throughout the nation that participate in the Pell Grant program.
  • You should be pursuing your first undergraduate degree due to the fact that most graduate programs do not qualify for this grant award, although certain kinds of professional graduate programs do, such as dentistry programs.
  • You must be making satisfactory academic progress in a degree-oriented program as defined by the school you are attending.
  • You must have a high school diploma, GED, or have passed an “ability to benefit” test.
  • If you are a male ages 18-25, you must be registered with the Selective Service.
  • You must be a U.S citizen, an eligible non-citizen, or a U.S. national.
  • You may not be eligible if you have been incarcerated at any point in the past.
  • You may not be eligible if you have a drug-related offense on your record, although this depends on the actual charge, the time it happened, and if you have attended a drug rehabilitation program.
  • You won’t be eligible if you have defaulted on any sort of federal aid in the past.
  • You cannot have an outstanding Pell overpayment on your record.
    If you have received a presidential, 100%, or full-scholarship of any kind you will not be eligible.

These are the most critical federal qualifications that you must pay attention to if you want to become eligible for the upcoming school year. You must pass them all if you want to ascertain your eligibility and you could put your eligibility status in jeopardy by providing even one wrong answer for any one of the above items.


Once you have satisfied the above requirements you should be in the running for the Pell Grant award as long as your EFC falls under the appropriate cutoff threshold for the specific school year at hand.

Remember that just because you are eligible to receive an award doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to receive the full amount available. In fact, most students only receive about 2,500 dollars out of the 5,500 dollars that are available on average, and to receive the maximum amount you typically need to have a very low EFC.

Once you have filled out your application a Student Aid Report, or SAR will be generated. Within this report will be a detailing of the information you provided by submitting your FAFSA, and included in this report should be your EFC, and your eligibility status.

You won’t immediately know the actual amount you are going to receive by looking at your SAR, but you will at least know if you’re in contention to receive some financial aid by way of this grant. That is pretty-much it, you now should have an understanding of how to determine your eligibility, and by submitting your FAFSA on-time, and in a complete fashion you should be able to officially know your eligibility this upcoming year and years to come.

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