The federal Pell Grant program is a need-based program that helps financially disadvantaged students afford their annual tuition. The advantage of this program is that students do not have to repay their Pell Grants, unlike student loans which they must repay with interest. Typically reserved for undergraduate students, the Pell Grant program makes a few exceptions for students enrolled in postbaccalaureate certificate programs.
The vast majority of Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students with a financial need. However, the program allows certain postbaccalaureate students to earn the grants as well, but they must fall into a specific category. Students who have earned a bachelor's degree and are enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certificate or licensure program can earn federal funds through Pell Grants.
With the exception of postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs, Pell Grant funds are reserved for undergraduate students. Thus, students enrolled in undergraduate certificate programs are also eligible to receive Pell Grant funds if they can display a financial need. Students without a bachelor's degree who are working toward a certificate in fields like cosmetology, medical billing and paralegal studies can use Pell Grant money to fund their education.
Students enrolled in the teacher certificate program can earn a Pell Grant only if their program meets certain federally established eligibility requirements. The postbaccalaureate teacher certificate program requires incoming students to hold a bachelor's degree, and it will not award the student a graduate degree like a master's. In addition, the school that offers the program cannot also offer a bachelor's degree program in education. The program should include courses required by the state to earn teaching certification or licensure. Undergraduate certificate programs can distribute Pell Grant funds as long as the school is eligible to distribute Title IV financial aid.
Students enrolled in eligible certificate programs can apply for Pell Grants using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application provides basic biographical information as well as financial information for the government to review. Postbaccalaureate teaching certificate students must indicate that they have earned a bachelor's degree but are enrolled in a teaching certificate program. If they do not indicate the certificate program, they will be ruled out for a Pell Grant since most students with bachelor's degrees are not eligible to participate in the program. Other certificate students must indicate that they have not yet earned a bachelor's degree.
Eligible certificate students whose FAFSAs are approved can earn up to the maximum in Pell Grant funds. For the 2010 to 2011 school year, Pell Grants were awarded up to $5,550 to participating students. However, the exact amount depends on a number of factors, including the student's financial need, tuition costs and status as a part-time or full-time student.