10 Things Online Students Should Know About Pell Grants August 12, 2009
1. Pell Grants can be Used to Pay for Online Degrees
The Pell Grant, the best-known federal grant for low-income students, can be used for online programs as well as campus programs. Students seeking Pell Grants for their online degrees prove their financial need by filing a FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the same way campus students do.
2. Pell Grant Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for a Pell Grant, you:
- must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen
- must demonstrate financial need through filing a FAFSA
- must have a high school diploma or GED
- must be enrolled in or pursuing admission at a legitimately accredited school
- can’t already have a bachelor’s degree or professional degree
- can’t be in prison
- must not be in default on a federal student loan
3. Importance of School Accreditation
An online school must be accredited by an authorized accrediting agency in order to participate in the federal financial aid program. There are many different legitimate accreditation agencies, but also many fake “accreditors” whose fraudulent names sound real, so it’s important to educate yourself on legitimate agencies. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) both have databases containing legitimate accrediting agencies. The Distance Education and Training Council Accrediting Commission, which is the best-known national accreditor of online schools and programs, has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the CHEA for over 30 years.
4. Apply for a Pell Grant by Completing a FAFSA
To get Pell Grants for online degrees students must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Your FAFSA will be processed and the Expected Family Contribution that’s calculated will determine if you qualify for Pell Grant. If you do, the Student Aid Report (SAR) you receive will let you know. You must file a new FAFSA every year you’re in school.
5. File Your FAFSA Online
- Filing online is recommended for the quickest results and access to online help and tools. See the FAFSA website.
- Or, you can mail in a paper FAFSA. The paper FAFSA is available only on request now. Call the Federal Student Aid Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID or download a PDF copy from the federal student aid or FAFSA web sites.
6. Items You’ll Need for Completing the FAFSA
- Social security number ( or alien registration card or permanent resident card if you’re not a U.S. citizen)
- Driver’s license
- W-2 forms from the previous year
- Federal tax return from the previous year
- Parents’ federal tax return from the previous year if you are a dependent
- Spouse’s federal tax return from the previous year if you are married
- Untaxed income records from the previous year
- Bank statements
- Investment records
7. FAFSA Deadline
You can submit the FAFSA starting January 1st of each year and it’s highly recommended that you file it ASAP if you also intend to apply for financial aid from your state. Many states have financial aid application deadlines as early as February and March, so be sure to find out what your state’s is. It will likely be to your advantage to file a FAFSA earlier rather than later, but you actually have 18 months from each January 1st. The long application period covers summer school at both ends and online programs that offer rolling admission throughout the year.
8. Pell Grant Award Amounts
Pell Grants for online degrees are calculated on a sliding scale based on several factors, including how much your family can contribute, your online degree education costs, and your full- or part-time enrollment status. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the maximum Pell Grant award per student is $5,350. For 2010-2011, the maximum grant goes up to $5,500.
9. How a Pell Grant Can Be Used
You can spend your Pell Grant money on these online degree expenses:
- Living and transportation expenses
Use of your Pell Grant is limited strictly to defined education purposes.
10. How You Get Your Pell Grant Money
Your Pell Grant funds may be paid out to you in one of several ways, depending on your school:
- Your school issues the money directly to you once per term and you pay your education bills
- The funds are applied directly to your school bill
- You and your school arrange to pay some funds directly to you and apply the rest to your bill
For more more information on Pell Grants for online degrees and other forms of financial aid, visit www.educationgrant.com.