Every year, millions of students are able to attend college in the United States thanks to Federal Pell grants. This program started in the early 1970s and was intended to make a college education obtainable by students from all economic levels. If you are need of financial assistance for college, these grants should be one of the first resources you consider.
Background of Pell Grants
The Pell program was started by Claiborne Pell, a Democratic Senator from Rhode Island. He served the state from 1961 to 1997 and, unfortunately, passed away in 2009. Not only was he the mind behind the program but he also sponsored the legislation that would go on to create the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Because of cuts to the higher education budget, the Pell grant program is not funded sufficiently to meet the needs of all students. Additionally, the rising costs of college have exceeded the growth of the maximum award amounts. After the program was created, the grants could cover almost two-thirds of college tuition. Today, the grant award only covers about one-third of the tuition bill. However, any amount can be helpful if it means you accrue less student loan debt in the process.
Applying for the Grant
If you are interested in applying for Pell grants, you need to submit the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) by the 30th of June. The application can be completed online and asks questions about where you plan to attend school, what your college plans are, and income information for you and your parents (if you are a dependent student).
After you submit your FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to the college(s) of your choice. The FAFSA is an important application if you don’t think you’ll qualify for Pell grants. Without the application, you won’t be eligible for Federal student loans or state grants either.
Amounts of Awards
How much you receive in Pell grants depends on several factors. Your cost of tuition and your status at the college are two factors. Generally, you’ll receive more funds as you move further through your college career. The amount of family contributions to your college fund also figures into the award amount since the funds are distributed based on student need. Also, the federal funding for the program limits the amounts that can be dispersed. The maximum award amount for the grants is $5,500 per year.
To maintain your eligibility for Pell grants, you must maintain acceptable academic progress and stay enrolled at least half-time.