If you're looking for money for school, the Federal Pell Grant is a great place to start. To apply for one online, a prospective student must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is located at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/. The FAFSA website has three sections you fill out: Before Beginning an FAFSA, Filling Out an FAFSA, and FAFSA Follow-up.
The Before Beginning an FAFSA section provides links to an FAFSA on the web worksheet, a school code search function, a PIN number application page, and a deadline information page. The worksheet is useful as it provides a student the chance to record all of the information needed before venturing to the application page. Worksheets are available as .pdf files in English or Spanish. The school code search function allows a student to find the unique code for his or her prospective institution. Note: A student may enter many school codes. Each school listed will receive the student's information. The PIN number application page is a necessary stop if a student is going to file an FAFSA online. The PIN number takes the place of a student's signature. Without the PIN, the application will be rejected. Note that if parental information is required on the FAFSA, the parent should also request a PIN number in order to sign it electronically. Finally, the deadline link sends the student to a page that lists the various state deadlines. Most states have grant programs that require a student file by a certain date. Some are as early as March 1. If the student's state has the notation, "Check with your financial aid administrator," the student should contact her school's financial aid office.
The Filling Out an FAFSA section allows a student to begin a new form, fill out a Renewal FAFSA, and continue working on a saved form. There is also a link that allows a student and a parent to sign an FAFSA using a PIN. The student should follow the instructions and enter the information requested. (The form is also called the Pell Grant form; you can't get one without filling this form out.)
The FAFSA Follow-Up section allows a student to check the status of a submitted application. Please note that it can take two or three weeks for an application to be processed and the information sent to the schools listed. A student can also correct a submitted FAFSA by following a link in this section. Finally, a student can view and print his or her Student Aid Report (SAR), which lists all of the information the student provided on the FAFSA.
So, what is a Pell Grant?
The Pell Grant, like all federal student aid, is based on need. The federal government has set up a formula that takes into account the student's income, total number of people in the household, and other factors to determine Pell Grant requirements. The numbers are entered into the formula and the student receives an Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The lower this number is, the greater Pell Grant the student is going to receive. Students with a zero EFC in the 2009-10 award year received the maximum Pell Grant amount of $5,350.
One of the most common questions students have about this formula is whether or not they need to include their parents' information on the FAFSA. The following factors are not taken into account: living apart from the parents, not being claimed on the parents' tax form as a dependent, and reaching her 21st birthday. To be considered an independent student, one of the following must be true:
- The student is 24 years old.
- The student is enrolled in a master's or doctorate program.
- The student is married at the time the application is filed.
- The student has a child, for whom he provides more than 50% financial support.
- The student has a dependent other than a child or spouse, for whom she provides more than 50% financial support.
- The student is an orphan or was a ward of the court until the age of 18.
- The student is a veteran.
If none of these seven statements is true, the student is required to include his parents' information on the FAFSA. Usually this makes it less likely the student will receive a Pell Grant. However, the student may be eligible for other student aid, such as federal student loans - and if the parents don't make much or anything, the EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) is low enough that the student may still meet Pell Grant qualifications.
The best source of information about a student's eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant is often the school the student plans to attend. All schools have a financial aid office with financial aid advisors eager to assist students as they figure out how to pay for their education.
If you don't quaify for a Pell Grant, you may still be able to get federal student loans, called Stafford loans. Also, the federal government isn't the only source for money for college; educational grants and scholarships are available from literally thousands of sources.