What to Know About Pell Grant Eligibility

Jocelyn Segoviano
Jocelyn Segoviano

Jocelyn Segoviano is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance topics. With a passion for helping individuals navigate their financial journeys, she has been providing insightful advice and practical tips to readers for over years.

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Daniel Kahn
Daniel Kahn
Daniel is the co-founder and COO at Sparrow. Daniel is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a company, working closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to support the growth and success of the company.
Daniel was a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 lister in the Education category.  Daniel was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from Duke University in 2020.
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Camden Ford
Camden Ford

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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January 8, 2024
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In the 2020-2021 school year, students received $26 billion in Pell Grant awards. And of course, seeing how the cost of education has been rising, you might want to get in on some of that award money. If you’re not sure about your Pell Grant eligibility, here’s what you need to know in order to qualify.

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What is a Pell Grant? 

The Federal Pell Grant is a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It’s available for low-income students wanting to pursue post-secondary education. Because it’s a grant, it does not need to be paid back.

The maximum award amount is subject to change but has recently been around $6,000. For the 2021-2022 school year, for example, the award limit was $6,495. While it’s entirely possible to get the full amount, you may get less than that. Your Pell Grant award amount will depend on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the cost of your school, your enrollment status, and how long you’ll be attending.

In some instances, you may be eligible to receive an additional award for attendance in an extra term. For instance, say you received $3,000 from the Pell Grant. You get $1,500 for the fall semester and $1,500 for the spring semester. But then, you take a summer semester, and you get another $1,500. This is what a Year-Round Pell is. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for it.

How to Determine Your Pell Grant Eligibility 

Before you start planning how you’ll use the money, remember you need to be eligible first. If you’re not eligible, you won’t get the money. Here are the Pell Grant eligibility criteria you need to know about


A significant requirement for the Pell Grant is having financial need. Anyone with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) at or below $5,846 has a financial need and is eligible for the grant. Your EFC is calculated by looking at:

  • your family size
  • the number of people in college in your household
  • the cost of the school or university, and
  • you and your family’s income and expenses.

Because the requirement is to have an EFC less than $5,846, there is no set income cutoff.


There is no age limit to the Pell Grant. As long as you are an undergraduate student, you can be eligible. You must also not have a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. When you do earn that degree, you will no longer be able to receive the Pell Grant award.


The Pell Grant will only be available to you, as long as you still meet the requirements, for 12 terms. Or, in other words, 6 academic years. After that, you will have reached your lifetime eligibility limit for the Pell Grant.

Military Service

Students with parents who served in the military might be able to get a larger Pell Grant. If your parent or guardian died as a result of service in the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or Afghanistan or was a public safety officer who died as a result of active service in the line of duty, then you might be eligible to get the larger grant amount. But, you must have been either less than 24 years old or enrolled in a college or career school at least part time. If you meet these requirements, talk to a financial aid officer about getting a larger Pell Grant.

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Pell Grant FAQs

Why Am I Not Eligible for the Pell Grant?

Reasons for ineligibility include not having financial need, having at least a bachelor’s degree, or a change in enrollment status.

Do I Have to Pay Back a Pell Grant?

Typically, no. But if you drop from full-time to half-time enrollment status, drop out of school, or if your financial need reduces, you will have to pay back the Pell Grant. Your school will provide you with information on how to start repayment.

How Do You Know If You Are Pell Grant Eligible?

To apply for a Pell Grant, you have to fill out the FAFSA. When you fill out the FAFSA, they will do the calculations needed to see what your EFC and financial need are. If you’re eligible for the Pell Grant, the grant will show up on your financial aid award package. If you don’t see the Pell Grant in your financial aid award package, then you probably weren’t eligible.

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Final Thoughts from the Nest 

Pell Grants provide much-needed funding to students from low-income families who need to pay for college. Eligible students must be undergraduate students with no degree and demonstrate financial need.

If you are not eligible, it would be smart to check out other forms of student aid like student loans. In fact, the Sparrow form can match you with what private student loans you pre-qualify for from any of our 15+ partnering lenders. Sign up to get started now.

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