Pell Grants, which are managed by the Department of Education and award up to $5,645 per year for students with exceptional financial need, remain a popular method of extending college access to those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. While these grants are often irreplaceable in helping a first-time college student attain a Bachelor's degree, they do come with certain rules and regulations that must be followed in order to continue receiving aid. Though the initial award is based largely on the student's FAFSA results, students who are already in school should ensure that they understand their Pell Grants properly to avoid losing these essential funds.
How do I keep a Pell Grant?
There are a number of things Pell Grant recipients should keep in mind in order to avoid losing funding. The first step is simultaneously the most bureaucratic and the easiest to forget: students must make sure they fill out a FAFSA to re-apply each year, thus ensuring that their Expected Family Contribution (ETC) is up to date and that they will remain eligible for the Pell Grant.
Students also need to make sure that they continue to meet what the federal government considers basic eligibility requirements for financial aid. These include things like demonstrating financial need, being enrolled as a full-time student, and being a US citizen (including having a valid Social Security number and, if male, being registered for Selective Service). While most students' eligibility status does not change once they have started school full-time, these are nonetheless important criteria to keep in mind.
What is satisfactory academic progress?
Many students may find the "satisfactory academic progress" requirement for continued Pell Grant funding confusing, but it is essentially a way for schools to verify that aid recipients are continuing to take steps towards their degree. While each school has specific requirements, these include such factors as maintaining a certain GPA, and how soon you graduate.
Certain procedures also affect funding, such as how often you progress is evaluated, what happens if your progress is deemed unsatisfactory, how you might appeal/regain eligibility, and how things such as withdrawing from a class or transferring to a new school might affect the evaluation of your academic progress. The rigor of these requirements depends on the institution, so Pell Grant recipients should review the requirements each year and ensure that they continue to make satisfactory progress towards their degree.
The Pell Grant continues to be an incredible resource for low-income students to attain a Bachelor's degree, as most Pell Grant funding goes towards students whose family incomes are less than $20,000 per year. The considerable size of the grant, however, means that these funds come with some strings attached, as listed above. Most students who keep on top of filling out their FAFSA each year and make the effort to get good grades in their classes have no trouble maintaining their Pell Grant funding, and thus ensure they are not in danger of losing their funding.