What Is the Max for a Pell Grant?

by Lisa Magloff ; Updated July 27, 2017
Pell Grants help lower-income students pay the costs of higher education.

The federal government gives Pell Grants to help lower-income students and families pay for higher education. The maximum amount of the grant depends on the inflation rate and changes every year. However, not every student awarded a Pell Grant qualifies for the maximum. The amount you receive will depend on your family income, the cost of tuition and several other factors.

Basic Maximum

As of the 2010-2011 school year, the maximum Pell Grant for a full-time student was $5,500. In total, students can apply for the grants for six years of full-time education, or 18 semesters. Some students may be eligible to receive two Pell Grants in one year. To qualify, it is not enough to show that the second grant will help pay for more of your tuition. Instead, you must show that the second grant will speed up your progress to a degree or qualification in a substantial way.

Calculating the Maximum

The maximum Pell Grant you can receive depends on a calculation made after you fill out the application form, called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form asks for information on your income and assets, and on your parents' income and assets if you are a dependant. You will need your 1040 tax form, if you file one, and your parents' 1040 to fill out the FAFSA. You will also need to tell about the school you plan to attend and the number of siblings that you have who are already in college. A calculation will then determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – the amount your family can afford to contribute to your education. The lower the EFC, the larger the Pell Grant you can receive.

The EFC Maximum

The size of your Pell Grant depends on your EFC and the cost of tuition at the school you plan to attend. The maximum EFC allowed changes each year. As of the 2010-2011 school year, you can only qualify for a Pell Grant if your family has an EFC under $5,273. Students whose EFC is close to this limit will receive less money than students with much lower EFCs. The cost of your school also affects the maximum Pell Grant you can receive. Students attending expensive schools may qualify for larger grants than students attending cheaper schools.

Getting the Maximum Award

If you or anyone in your household is receiving one of five federal means-tested benefits, you may qualify for an EFC of zero. The five benefits are Supplemental Security Income, Food Stamps, Free or Reduced Price School Lunch, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. If someone in your household gets one of these benefits, you may still not qualify for the maximum award, but your chances of getting the maximum are much higher. You may also automatically qualify for the maximum Pell Grant award if your parent or guardian died while on active military duty in a combat zone.

About the Author

Since graduating with a degree in biology, Lisa Magloff has worked in many countries. Accordingly, she specializes in writing about science and travel and has written for publications as diverse as the "Snowmass Sun" and "Caterer Middle East." With numerous published books and newspaper and magazine articles to her credit, Magloff has an eclectic knowledge of everything from cooking to nuclear reactor maintenance.

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