What are Pell Grants?

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Two women sit across a table from each other while smiling. One woman is wearing a yellow shirt and the other is wearing glasses and a red shirt.
In this article


  • Federal Pell Grants are available primarily to undergraduate students who have financial need.
  • Unlike traditional student loans, Pell Grants have no interest or fees and do not need to be repaid, except under select circumstances.
  • Unlike many scholarships, Pell Grants don't require you to fill out a separate application. Complete the FAFSA® form to determine eligibility.

If you're applying for federal student aid, you may have some questions about how to qualify for a Pell Grant. These financial aid awards can help low-income students earn a degree, all without the burden of interest and repayment. Can a Pell Grant help you jumpstart your educational journey?

What is a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are awarded to students completing undergraduate and, in some cases, post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs. They are only available to students who demonstrate significant financial need. Unlike traditional student loans, Pell Grants have no interest or fees and do not need to be repaid, except for under select circumstances. For example, you may need to repay the grant if you withdraw from your educational program early or if your enrollment status changes in a way that reduces your eligibility for the grant.

The maximum amount a student may receive from a Pell Grant is adjusted annually. Pell Grants also have a lifetime limit. Students can't exceed the equivalent of six years of Pell Grant funding.

Who qualifies for a Pell Grant?

Pell Grants are available to undergraduates and students at vocational schools who meet federal student aid requirements and have not yet completed a bachelor's, graduate or professional degree. They're awarded only to those who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

Pell Grants don't actually have income limits. Instead, students and their families qualify based on their expected family contribution (EFC), a figure determined by financial information provided on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Calculated based on your or your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits, your EFC determines whether you qualify for many types of financial assistance, including Pell Grants. The EFC threshold for Pell Grant eligibility may change annually.

How do I know if I qualify for a Pell Grant?

Students will be notified of Pell Grant and other funding through financial aid offers from each university, college or vocational school they apply to attend. These letters detail exactly which aid the student will receive, including Pell Grants.

You can also approximate your eligibility based on your Student Aid Report. This document recaps the information you reported on your FAFSA. It summarizes your financial history and lists your EFC. It also estimates your potential eligibility for Pell Grants and other forms of student aid.

Other federal grant programs

There are three other major federal grants available to qualified students:

  • The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is offered to undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students studying to become teachers in a high-need field. A recipient must complete four years of service at a low-income elementary or secondary school within eight years of receiving the grant. If they fail to meet this requirement, their TEACH grant will be converted to a direct unsubsidized student loan.
  • The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is available to students who have not yet earned a bachelor's or graduate degree and who demonstrate exceptional financial need.
  • The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is awarded to students with a parent or guardian who served in the U.S. military and died in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11. Students may be a candidate for this grant if they are not eligible for a Pell Grant because their EFC is too high.

How to apply for a Pell Grant

Pell Grants don't require you to fill out a separate application. Simply complete your FAFSA form to determine your eligibility.

Pell Grants are a highly sought-after source of funding. However, they're only available to disadvantaged students. If you are not awarded a Pell Grant or another type of federal student aid you may still qualify for other grants and scholarships. Look for financial and merit-based aid offered by your state government, your school and private and non-profit organizations.

Free Credit Score

Get your free credit score today!

We get it, credit scores are important. A monthly free credit score & Equifax credit report are available with Equifax Core CreditTM. No credit card required.

Learn More