Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Financial Aid

Pell Grants: Amounts, Limits, & Eligibility

Updated May 02, 2023   |   3-min read

Keeping up with the rising cost of college is tough, and if you come from a low-income family it is even tougher. The Pell Grant is a need-based federal grant for low-income students who require financial support to pay for college.

Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not received a bachelor’s degree and to some students who are enrolled in qualifying post-baccalaureate programs.

Pell Grant Amounts & Limits

Yearly Limits

For the current school year, the maximum Pell Grant a student may receive is $6,195. Students with less financial need, however, will receive less funds.

Typically, students will receive 50% of their Pell Grant amount for the fall semester and 50% for the spring semester.

In some cases, students may receive an additional 50% of the original Pell Grant amount if they take classes during the winter or summer. This is called the “year-round Pell.”

Lifetime Limit

There is no overall monetary cap on the amount of Pell Grants students can receive. Instead, the lifetime limit on Pell Grants is the equivalent of 12 semesters of funding. So, no matter how much you qualify for in a single semester, that counts as one of 12 semesters that you are eligible to receive Pell Grants.

Availability of Pell Grant Funds

As with all types of federal financial aid, the amount of funding is limited. Annual Pell Grant funding is reported by the Congressional Budget Office or CBO.

For the 2018-19 school year, the total Pell Grant spending was estimated to be $30.6 billion with an estimated 7.5 million students receiving funds. The average award was around $4,100.

Eligibility for Pell Grants

Eligibility for Pell Grants is similar to other federal aid programs, however, there are a few differences. Please see the eligibility criteria below:

  • Borrower must demonstrate financial need
  • ​Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. National, or eligible noncitizen
  • ​Have a valid Social Security number unless exempt
  • ​Not already have an undergraduate or professional degree
  • ​Be registered for the U.S. Selective Service, if a male between the ages of 18 and 25
  • ​Sign statements on FAFSA certifying that you will use the funds for educational purposes
  • ​Not currently in default on federal student loans and do not owe money on a federal grant
  • Not be found guilty of drug charges while receiving federal financial aid​

How Can I Apply for a Pell Grant?

Pell Grant’s do not have a direct application available; all students are considered after completing and submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA provides key eligibility information such as family income, personal assets, expenses, and will allow the federal aid officers to determine how much federal financial assistance you need.

Pell Grants are reserved for students from low-income families, so you must demonstrate exceptional financial need on your FAFSA to qualify for one. Please be aware, Pell Grants are not common types of federal aid, and as such are reserved for those with the greatest financial need. Federal financial aid alternatives include Stafford LoansPerkins Loans, and PLUS Loans.​

History of the Pell Grant

In 1972 the Pell Grant program was established as a consequence of the Higher Education Act. Originally coined the Basic Education Opportunity Grant Program, the program was renamed to the Pell Grant program in 1980 after Senator Claiborne Pell.

The initiation of the program intended to improve and assist with a college education in America.