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How to Optimize Your PELL Grant for School

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By Debra Wales
Military Outreach Education Coordinator, American Public University System

In addition to using Tuition Assistance (TA) or your GI Bill to fund your education, you have the option of using a PELL Grant. What is a PELL Grant? It’s a Federal Grant usually awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree and unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. The grant money given to you is based on your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

If you were deployed any or part of the previous year, your taxable income will reduce significantly. For example if you are an E-7 in the Army your taxable income is about $52,000 per year. When you were deployed your taxable income goes down, which would give you a very low EFC for that time period.  Since the PELL Grant goes by your taxable income for the previous year (EFC), that deployment may help you get some grant money that in other years you would not have qualified for. The grant system is set up to assist you with financing your undergraduate degree and can be used with TA to help you earn your degree.

As a member of the military you can apply for a PELL Grant, and your spouse can as well. In one household there can be several people applying for PELL Grant funds off the same income. The current value of a PELL Grant is $5,635.00 per year. You as a soldier and/or your spouse may be eligible for all or part of those funds. Take a moment to look and see if you are eligible for PELL Grant funds based on a deployment or your EFC for last year. This is a great way for you to have some additional funds available to complete your degree.

PELL Grant 2013-2014:

Applicants that are eligible for the Pell Grant can receive up to $5,635 in Pell Grant award amount.  The maximum Pell Grant amount is available to applicants that have a zero EFC (Expected Family Contribution) score. The score is based on the financial information given within the applicant’s FAFSA application. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) takes the applicant’s income, assets, cost of attendance, the number of family members currently in school, and other factors to determine how much the family should be able to contribute towards the applicant’s education expenses.

To be eligible for the Pell Grant, applicants must meet the following qualifications:

  1. Recipients must be undergraduates and cannot have received a bachelor’s degree previously (with the exception of certain teacher certificate programs).
  2. Student must be enrolled with the purpose of obtaining a degree or certificate at an eligible institution.
  3. Students must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, which all military have.
  4. Less than full-time students are eligible for pro-rated awards based on their enrollment status.

For more EFC information visit the FAFSA4caster form to see if you qualify.

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