Use Your Pell Grant Wisely

Pell Grants allow even the poorest students to attend college. Underwritten by the United States Federal Government, the Pell Grant pays all tuition costs and even some living expenses for many college students. In general, the students who qualify for a Pell Grant are single, unemployed, and independent from their parents or from very low-income families. The Pell Grant is not a merit-based college scholarship. That means that you can’t lose your Pell eligibility by earning low grades. Pell Grants can only be used to earn your first Baccalaureate degree. They cannot be used to attend graduate school.

Pell Lifetime Eligibility Limit

That’s the good news. However, you need to be aware that your Pell Grant is not a golden-egg-laying goose. The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2014-2-15 academic year was $5,730. That amount will pay tuition and even dormitory fees at some state schools, but it will not even cover the full cost of tuition at many private universities. So, unless you have other financial resources that will help pay for college, you have to manage your Pell Grant carefully. And that may mean choosing a school that you can afford on that grant.

In 2011, United States President Barack Obama signed a law that limits every student to six years’ of Pell Grant Funding. For students who sign on to the right school and sail through to graduation in four years, this is not a problem. However, other students find that the road to graduation is not straight and well paved. Many life events can interrupt an education: A divorce, a serious illness, an unexpected pregnancy, a death in the family are just a few of the things that can cause students to drop out of classes. Some students devote two or three years to a major before discovering that that field does not really suit them. Other students fall in love with a completely different field from the one they entered college to pursue.

If you need to take a semester off, that semester does not count toward your six years of Pell Grant money. If, however, you start classes and drop out, you are likely to be squandering a semester’s worth of Pell funding. Universities must report student withdrawals and pay back Pell funds. That means you may end up owing your university for a semester that you did not complete.

Here are some general principles to observe when attending school on the Pell Grant:

Don’t drop classes for any reason except a dire emergency. If you have a death in the family, an illness, or a baby, it’s better to negotiate with your professor to be out of class for two to four weeks than to drop the class. Promise to submit your work by email, and your professor may just cut you a break.

Be careful about changing majors. With six years’ of education covered by the Pell Grant, you may be able to afford ONE change of major, but be aware that every time you change majors, you add to the length of your college career because the course requirements are completely different. Many students end up on the “seven-year plan” by changing majors too often.

Be extremely cautious about transferring. The fastest route to success is to pick and school and a major and stick to them. Flitting from school to school is the easiest way to run out of Pell Grant money before you earn a degree. Transferring to a different school is a huge risk because you cannot know, in advance, which of your former classes the new school will accept for transfer credit. You may end up repeating classes you have already taken. Taking the same Comp One class three times can be a huge bore! So don’t transfer to a different school for trivial reasons such as: you want to be close to the beach or your think the girls in another state are better looking. You should transfer only if you believe the education at the school you are attending will not get you where you want to go with your career.

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