Qualify for a Pell Grant? Here's How to Spend the Money

College Counselor

The Pell Grant is a form of federal financial aid that is given to undergraduate students based on their level of financial need and the cost of attendance at their school, among other factors. This is grant money and does not need to be repaid. The amount changes yearly; for example, Pell Grant recipients during the 2014-2015 school year will see maximum amounts of $5,730. Understanding how to get a Pell Grant is part of the bigger question of how to pay for college, and it starts by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA will help guide you through eligibility guidelines if you're wondering "do I quality for a Pell Grant?"

If you are awarded a Pell Grant, your college (not the government) will distribute your money in at least two payments throughout the course of the academic year. Usually your college will use your grant money towards tuition and fees, and anything left over will be paid out to your for other expenses.

So, what's the best use of federal Pell Grant money? We asked four experts working in financial aid and enrollment offices at major universities for their pell grant advice. Here's what they had to say:

How do you recommend students make the best use of federal Pell Grants?

Ryan C. WilliamsSyracuse University

Ryan C. Williams, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at Syracuse University

The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students. Students who wish to apply for the Federal Pell Grant must complete a Free Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) each year. The Pell Grant funds can be applied towards tuition, room, board and other related education expenses. It is recommended the students utilize the Pell Grant towards tuition and housing related costs before personal or miscellaneous expenses.

Billie Jo HamiltonUniversity of South Florida

Billie Jo Hamilton, University of South Florida Director of University Scholarships & Financial Aid Services

The most important way to make the best use of any type of financial aid is to complete all of the classes that you enroll in, and only enroll in the classes you need to get your degree. The less time you spend in school the less cost you incur, plus you are earning paycheck once you have your degree!

Terry M. MicksUniveristy of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Terry M. Micks, Loan Programs Coordinator University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Financial Aid Office

Pell Grants are best used if applied directly to your tuition. Reducing the amount of tuition that you owe will free up funds for housing, food and miscellaneous items.

Delisa F. FalksTexas A&M

Delisa F. Falks, Executive Director Scholarships and Financial Aid at Texas A&M University

Pell Grants are going to apply directly to a student's charges the university has assessed, typically they will pay directly toward the tuition for the student.

You can apply for a Pell Grant every year, though note that you may not receive the same amount every year. As of July 1st, 2012 students can receive Pell Grant money for no more than 12 semesters, or six years.

There are a few ways that students can loose their Pell Grant eligibility. These may include:

  • You longer meet the basic eligibility criteria, such as demonstrating financial need.
  • You defaulted on your student loan.
  • You have not made good enough grades, or completed enough credit hours.
  • You have been convicted of a crime.

Since 1972, the Pell Grant has helped millions of students afford the cost of a college education. To access more information on the Pell Grant and other sources of financial aid, head over to our How to Pay for College section.


  1. Billie Jo Hamilton (University of South Florida), interviewed by the author 8/25/2014
  2. Delisa F. Falks (Texas A&M), interviewed by the author 8/13/2014
  3. Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/pell
  4. How Scholarships Work, http://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/college-planning/financial-aid/scholarship1.htm
  5. Ryan C. Williams (Syracuse University), interviewed by the author 8/21/2014
  6. Terry Micks (UW-La Crosse), interviewed by the author 8/19/2014