The Department of Education offers Pell grants to students who need financial assistance to attend college. Unlike loans, Pell grants do not have to be paid back. Depending on your financial circumstances and how many classes you intend to take at a time, you may receive up to $5,550 per semester in grant money.
Expected Family Contribution
FAFSA examines the difference between your expected family contribution and your college costs to determine whether you are eligible for a Pell grant. Your expected family contribution is based on your income and assets. As of 2011, if you are under the age of 24, your parents' income and assets also affect your expected family contribution. Your expected family contribution must be less than $5,273 as of 2011 to be eligible for a Pell grant.
Purpose of Limitation
FAFSA aid, including Pell grants, is intended to give those students who would not otherwise be able to afford to attend college equal educational opportunities to their more wealthy peers. Thus, FAFSA only offers Pell grants to people whose expected family contribution is low enough that they are unlikely to be able to pay for college without the grant.
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Factors Affecting Expected Family Contribution
In addition to the amount of money you make per year, FAFSA takes into account the number of people attending college in your household, excluding your parents; your family size; and whether you or your parents are supporting dependents. If you are a dependent of your parents or under the age of 24, FAFSA considers your parents' income and assets in addition to your own. It also deducts your basic living expenses, such as rent and food, and your tax liability from your income.
How to Apply
Fill out a FAFSA application to apply for Pell grants as well as other financial aid programs such as federal student loans. You must fill out the FAFSA application online and sign it electronically using a PIN. FAFSA will determine your eligibility for its financial aid programs and send you a letter informing you of any award you are entitled to receive. If you are only interested in the Pell grant, you can decline to accept other awards such as student loans or work study programs.