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What is a Pell Grant – A Synopsis

The Pell Grant is a financial aid given by the Federal government to students belonging to the lower income group. The purpose of the grant is to enable them to pursue undergraduate courses. Students pursuing a post baccalaureate teacher certification program may also avail the Pell Grant. This grant, unlike a student loan, need not be repaid.

The Pell grant was instituted in the year 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. There are approximately 5400 post secondary institutions that are part of the program. So far millions of financially weak students have benefited from the grant. Usually the grant is awarded to students where the annual income of the student’s family is below $20000. However, to be eligible for the Pell Grant, one must meet certain criteria. These criteria are:

• One must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non- citizen.
• One must be pursuing undergraduate studies.
• The Economic Family Contribution (EFC), as computed by a formula from the data given by the student, must be below a certain level.
• One must have a high school diploma or a GED or should be able to gain advantage from the program.

The funds, which are allocated by the Federal Government towards the Pell Grant, vary from year to year. For the year 2008-2009 the maximum grant that will be given to an individual student is $4731. However, the amount of the actual grant that is awarded to a student depends on his or her unique financial situation. The factors that determine how much financial assistance the student will get are:
• The cost of the school
• The family’s economic condition
• The number of members in the family
• Whether the course is part-time or full time course
• Whether the student plans to attend school for the full academic year or not.

The Pell Grant is awarded for 18 semesters. The award is either given to the student directly (through the medium of a check) or applied by the school towards the cost of the school. A combination of the two methods may also be used. The payment is made once in every term. Usually a student can avail only one grant. In certain cases if the student accelerates his academic program then he may be eligible for another Pell grant.

So how does one apply for the Pell Grant? All one has to do is to fill in the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) form. This form is available at high schools, colleges, vocational schools, libraries, community and state agencies. By filling this form, the student simultaneously applies for all other financial aids.

When this form is processed, the student can know whether he is eligible for the Pell Grant and the extent of aid that he can get. He will also come to know about his eligibility for other financial aid programs. It takes between two weeks to a month to know the outcome of the application. One should apply for the grant by June to be eligible for the next academic year.

The Pell Grant has so far fulfilled its objective of helping students from the lower income families to continue their education. Many have been able to accomplish their dreams of earning a college degree with its aid.