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:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • 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.

Earn Your Degree Online.


Tina McCormick November 10th, 2009

I’m in need of assistance and have to pay my way the last 2 semesters. As a single mom, I’m struggling to pay for my last 2 classes of college to graguate. I know I have more than the allowed amount of credits, but are there other grants that can help me?

Thank you,

TheEditor November 10th, 2009

Hi Tina,
Congratulations on being so close to achieving your college goal! Your best bet for that last bit of grant money is actually your school—many colleges these days have grant and scholarship programs set aside specifically for single moms. Talk to the financial aid department there to find out how to apply for their single mom and nontraditional student financial aid programs. OnlineDegreeFinder.com’s sister site, EducationGrant.com, also has a lot of information on grants and scholarships for nontraditional students and single mothers, as well as a link to a grant guide. Visit EducationGrant.com and if you find anything there that’s helpful, come back to OnlineDegreeFinder.com and let us know. Best wishes, The OnlineDegreeFinder Editor

Crisstle December 27th, 2009

I was laid off from my job 04/2009, I am a single mother of two, my oldest attend a community college and I am looking to go back. I received Pell Grant for a community college but it doesn’t cover the total cost. The income came from the previous year; which I was working so the income was high. Shouldn’t the income be based on the year you was laid off? I am so looking forward to go back to school but I don’t have the balance to pay for the classes I applied for.

Alice Evans January 7th, 2010

Can the Pel grant pay for internet services for online courses?

SDurning January 8th, 2010

Hi Alice,
Thanks for the question, it’s a good one. Yes, you should be able to use a Pell Grant to pay for Internet service for an online course, as long as the online program is accredited by a regional or national accreditor recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (offered by a postsecondary school so accredited), and either leads to an undergrad degree or meets a certain number of clock-hours. Talk to the financial aid office at the school you’re considering for confirmation and details. Your school’s financial aid office is always your best source of information. Thanks for reading OnlineDegreeFinder! The Editor

SDurning January 8th, 2010

Hi Crisstle,
This is a good question since, thanks to the terrible economy, there are a lot of people in your boat these days! Take a look at this post on our companion site, EducationGrant.com: When Your FAFSA Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story: The Secret to Getting More Financial Aid. In short, your best resource for more money is the financial aid office at the school you want to attend. Good luck, and best wishes for success in returning to school! The OnlineDegreeFinder Editor

Charlene Bradford April 4th, 2010

I need some information desperately. I am 57 years of age. I am currently attending college at Maysville &community Technical College in Rowan County KY. I have had a few problems since starting college. Last semester I had an accident at work and almost lost my finger. It was suggested that I withdraw from computer and math class because we used computers. I got an A in Communications Class and a High B in English 101. This year I am getting A’s in English 102 and Appalachian Studies. I was enrolled in two on-line classes and I had no computer training. I tried to get the hang of the Blackboard, but with no training for it, I could not master it. I had to drop Poetry class on-line because I got so far behind. My other on-line teacher has been awesome and I am getting A’s inthat course as well. I am struggling very much with my math. I am geting tutored, I am studying enormous amounts of time. My teacher knows how hard I am working. I am afraid that no matter how much I study I will not pass math. I have been told that if I do not get pass three classes this semester that I may have to pay back my grant money. I cannot try any harder than I already am. I even have a retired Math Professor from Morehead State University tutoring me. My husband is disabled and I just cannot work and keep up with my studies. We are living from paycheck to paycheck, I am hoping with all of my heart that this is not true…..I do not know what I would do.


SheltonManuela October 9th, 2010

This is cool that people are able to receive the personal loans moreover, this opens completely new opportunities.

yoanna October 18th, 2010

hi my question is sort of relevant but not quite…..my cousin wants to got back to school, community that is, but shes confused due to the fact that she stopped going right after high school ..she graduated, she never worked and still lives with her mom….so is she still eligible to get a pell grant of some kind w/out it being a loan? can anyone help..ive been searching for an answer but havent found one online….

wesley williams January 3rd, 2011

is the pell grant the best way to go for me , as i intend to earn a online degree in religious studies?

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