What Is My Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility?

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Financial aid is a necessity for most college and university students. Without it, the majority of individuals enrolled wouldn’t be. In fact, USA Today notes that 71 percent of higher education students used some form of financial aid during the 2011-2012 academic year. That’s a large group of people when you consider around 19.7 million were enrolled in an American college or university in the fall of that academic year, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Lifetime Eligibility

Lifetime eligibility is something that many students are unaware of until they run out of funding. Essentially, there is a maximum amount of Pell Grant funds that any student is eligible to receive in totality over the course of their lifetime, regardless of whether or not they still continue to meet general eligibility requirements.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Obama in December of 2011, taking effect in July of the following year. The Act served to impose 600 percent limitations on Pell Grant funds. Thus, no student, regardless of their financial circumstances, would be eligible to receive any more funds of this type after having received 12 full semesters of funding — or six years of college aid.

A lot of currently enrolled students were significantly impacted by the change. For example, a student enrolled in their fourth year of college at the time of the law going into effect may have already exhausted their funds for the rest of the school year. Students who have already used the full 600 percent of their funding who plan to continue their education will find themselves no longer eligible as well.

Calculating Your Lifetime Eligibility

So you’ve been using the Pell Grant for some time now and you’re curious what you have left to work with. The simplest way to check on your lifetime eligibility status is to log in to the National Student Loan Data System, but you can gather a rough estimate on your own, too. All you need to know is how much your award amounts were every year that you’ve used a Pell Grant.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities reports that 9.7 million people used a Pell Grant to help pay for their education-related costs in 2011. While students could receive anywhere from $555 to about $5,500, the average amount a student received was $3,555, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Knowing your award amount is most important, because that’s how you compute what percentage of your awarded funds you’ve used.

For example, a student who is awarded $4,000 and only uses $2,000 of it to attend school for one semester has used 50 percent of their award amount. Come the following year, that student will still have 550 percent of their lifetime eligibility remaining, whereas using the entire award amount would have left them with only 500 percent. Percentages used are combined year after year to calculate the total of your lifetime eligibility that you’ve used.

Everyone who fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid should be aware of their lifetime Pell Grant eligibility in order to effectively plan for other forms of aid to take its place should funds be exhausted. If you’re considering a Pell Grant as a means of footing your college tuition bill, utilize the information and tools provided by SimpleTuition to make sure you’re fully informed on the ins and outs of eligibility.


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