What Is a Pell Grant?

The Federal Pell Grant Program supplies grants for students who have limited income with funding to pursue an undergraduate post-secondary education. The Pell Grant does not have to be repaid, and eligible applicants are determined by specific criteria. Federal Pell Grants are awarded via participating colleges and institutions to individuals who are enrolled in specific programs that are directed towards teacher certification or licensing.


Students awarded the grant can receive funds in one of two ways: The school they are attending will give monetary credit to the student's Federal Pell Grant account, or the institution will pay the student directly. The Federal Pell Grant requires that the student be paid for each semester. Generally, this means twice per academic year.


Federal Pell Grants are intended for those who have not yet obtained a bachelor's degree; however, in some cases exceptions are made. This program supports students with financial disadvantages to obtain a higher level of education (despite monetary restrictions). The amount of money that’s given by the grant can alter depending on the year the grant is awarded and the funding of a specific program. Pell Grants are regarded as federal financial aid, which means that the government creates and oversees the eligibility requirements.


The exact amount of the grant takes a student’s circumstances into account. This includes the student’s income and the income of her family, the cost of the program/school and the matriculation of the student (either full-time or part-time). The U.S. Department of Education uses a set formula to establish the financial need. The process of applying for a Pell Grant begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). After this is completed and filed, a Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to the student or an Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) will be sent to the institution where he is enrolling. Both the SAR and ISIR inform the student of his qualification for the Federal Pell Grant


According to the Federal Student Aid website, “The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2008-09 award year (July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009) is $4,731.” Students are also eligible to receive financial aid, grants and scholarships from outside, in addition to the Pell Grant. Students awarded the Pell Grant must use it at one of the participating institutions.


The post-secondary institutions approved for Pell grants are listed under the U.S. Department of Education Programs. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) administers the programs and issues the "Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs” every academic year. Information pertaining to specific ED programs can be found in the guidebook. Program data consists of things about a program like, its mission, funding, availability, assistance criteria, eligibility and contact information. Currently, around 5,400 post-secondary institutions participate in the program.


About the Author

Serena Spinello holds two master’s degrees and is pursuing her Ph.D. in medical science. She has been a professional writer and researcher for over 10 years and is an active member of the American Medical Writers Association, Academy of Medical Educators, and the National Association of Social Workers.