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The Federal Pell Grant is a need-based financial aid that helps financially constrained students fulfill their desire of pursuing higher education. They are direct college grants awarded by the Federal govt. to students, who have not received their first bachelor's degree or to those enrolled in certain post-baccalaureate programs leading to teacher certification. Unlike student loans, these disbursements do not have to be repaid and are provided by the govt., through schools participating in this program.

What is the Eligibility?

The eligibility criteria for students is evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education, on the basis of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), the cost of tuition, and whether the student is enrolled on a full-time basis. EFC is calculated by taking into account the student's income, the parents' assets and income, the size of the household, and the number of family members (excluding parents) receiving post-secondary education. A different scale of assessment is applicable to students, who are financially independent. Generally, the applicants are undergraduate students who do not have a bachelor's degree, although, in some cases students who are enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs may also be considered. Most Pell grants are awarded to students whose annual family income is below $30,000, although, the upper limit for receiving a Pell grant is $60,000.

How much Amount is given?

Eligible students receive a specified amount, either annually or once every semester or trimester, depending upon the course of study. The maximum amount changes every year and for the year 2013-14 it was to $5,645. The least amount that can be disbursed in lieu of the grant is around $609. The participating institutions, generally credit the funds to the student's school account, or pay the student via a check, or use a combination of the aforementioned methods. Students, who have received their first grant on or after July 1, 2008, can continue receiving the grant for a maximum of 18 semesters.

What is the Application Process?

The application is absolutely free and a student desirous of applying for this grant is expected to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It can be obtained from the high school guidance office. One may also complete it online by visiting the FAFSA or Student Aid website. Although, the deadline isn't until spring of the year for which one is seeking funding, the disbursements are on a first come first serve basis. People can track their application online. They can also check the status of their FAFSA by calling up the Federal Student Aid Information Center, toll-free.

The Student Aid Report (SAR), which is received in response to filling out the FAFSA, provides instructions for claiming the grant in addition to notifying the student of his/her eligibility to receive the grant, providing the EFC and the amount of money that the student is eligible to receive. In addition to Pell grants, there are a number of other grants that can help students pursue their academic goals.