Fortunately, Pell Grant eligibility requirements are fairly simple: you are eligible for a Pell Grant if you have financial need. Students must be seeking an undergraduate degree and not incarcerated for a forcible or non-forcible sexual offense. Read more on how the Pell Grant works for students.

How it works

Federal Pell Grants are usually awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. In some cases, however, a student enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program might receive a Federal Pell Grant. As stated above, you are not eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant if you are incarcerated in a federal or state penal institution or are subject to an involuntary civil commitment upon completion of a period of incarceration for a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense.

The U.S. Department of Education determines financial need by taking the information you supply on your FAFSA (for example, your family income) and plugging it into a standard formula to produce a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is then compared to the expected cost of attending your college (tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies) to determine the amount of financial aid you would be eligible for.

To be eligible for a Pell Grant, you must:

  • Be an undergraduate student who has not earned a bachelor’s degree
  • Be enrolled (or accepted for enrollment) as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Have earned a high school diploma or a GED or have completed a high school education in an approved home-school setting
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen

Since this is a grant, not a loan, it’s free money for those who are eligible. The only situations in which you would need to repay the grant is if: 1) you withdraw from school early; 2) outside scholarships or grants cover your costs; or 3) your enrollment status changes and reduces your eligibility for the grant. The final reason you would need to repay the funds from a Pell Grant is if you mistakenly receive more money than you were eligible for; this is referred to as “overpayment,” and you would pay the overage back to your school or set up a payment plan to do so within 45 days of notice.

If you’re eligible for a Federal Pell Grant, you’ll receive the full amount you qualify for—each school participating in the program receives enough funds each year from the U.S. Department of Education to pay the Federal Pell Grant amounts for all of its eligible students. Any other student aid for which you might qualify does not affect the amount of your Pell Grant.

Note for children of servicemembers

If you are a child of a servicemember killed in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, then you might be eligible for additional funds from the Pell Grant. It is, however, required that you were younger than 24 when your parent or guardian died and currently enrolled part-time or full-time in a college or a career school. According to Federal Student Aid, if you meet these requirements and are otherwise eligible for a Pell Grant, your EFC will be zero. This can help you become eligible for more Pell Grant funds. Also, note that if you’re unable to get funding through the Pell Grant, you can try for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The same eligibility criteria apply.

What next?

To apply for a Pell grant, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Remember, even if you think you don’t qualify for the Pell Grant, you should fill out your FAFSA anyway. The FAFSA is free to complete, and it allows you to be considered for all types of federal aid. Of all the Pell Grant requirements to know, this is the most important one: You can’t receive any funding from this grant if you don’t fill out your FAFSA.