What If You Don't Qualify for a Pell Grant?

Don't panic if you don't have a Pell Grant—you still have options

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The U.S. government set up the Federal Pell Grant program to help students from lower-income families attend college, but many students find that they don't qualify. This usually happens because their parents have an income that's higher than the threshold to receive the grant.

It can be frustrating to realize that you don't have this help, but you don't have to let it stop you from attending school. You still have options available to you if you find yourself in this situation.

Pell Grant Limits

The Pell Grant is intended for undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. Some of the methods used to determine eligibility and award amount are Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and cost of attendance.

The maximum amount you can qualify for is $6,895 for the 2022-2023 award year (July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023). You might well need more than this to fund a year in school even if the federal Pell Grant program doesn't entirely leave you out in the cold. You'll have to find other ways to raise money to cover college expenses.

Apply for Needs-Based Scholarships

Begin by applying for need-based scholarships through your college or university. Speak with the financial aid office at your school and explain your situation.

You can also apply for national needs-based scholarships. Check with your employer and your parents' employers to see whether their organizations offer scholarships, or search scholarship websites. Local community groups often offer scholarships as well.


Scholarships can add up even when their amounts individually don't seem significant.

Make it a goal to apply for a certain number of scholarships each year. Merit-based scholarships might be easier to qualify for in the spring and summer terms.

Choose a Different College

Consider attending a more affordable college or university. Private universities are great, but plenty of excellent state universities can provide you with a quality education at a much more affordable price. Switching to a school with in-state tuition will likely save you more than you would have received in Pell Grant money.

Look into summer school sessions as another way to save on your tuition. Some schools offer lower tuition rates in the summer. The workload might be different from during the regular school year, however, so research the classes and professors carefully when you sign up.

Apply for a Student Loan

You can apply for a student loan and apply for a Pell Grant as well—you don't have to choose one or the other. You can apply for loans even if you ultimately decide not to use them. You'll have access to the money if it turns out that you'll need it.

It might be a good idea to do this for at least your freshman year, because you won't know what kind of job you'll be able to find and maintain while you're in school.

Try to avoid taking out private student loans because the repayment terms can be more difficult and the interest rate is typically higher. Look to the government instead. Some federal student loans don't require that you establish a financial need. They include the Direct Unsubsidized Loan, and your parents might be able to take out a Direct PLUS Loan.

Find a College Job

Make the most of your college job. Try to earn as much as possible in the hours you've set aside to work. Working in the summer and saving that money can also help with expenses.


You might find that you have to work multiple jobs during these months so you can manage financially when you're attending classes again.

Keep Your Living Expenses Low

Cut your other expenses while you're in school. Stick to a tight budget in college. You want to graduate with as little debt as possible, so you might want to consider living at home if that's an option. Your parents should still be able to claim you as a dependent on their taxes, and the savings might be more than what you would have received from a Pell Grant. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Would I ever be expected to pay back a Pell Grant?

In most cases, Pell Grants do not have to be paid, but under certain circumstances they could be. You may be required to pay all or part of it back if you withdraw from school during the term you were given the grant for, if your enrollment status changes, or if you receive scholarships that reduce your need for federal financial aid.

How do I apply for a Pell Grant?

When you submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will automatically be given a Pell Grant if you qualify. You do not need to fill out a separate application for it.

For how long can I receive the Pell Grant?

If you maintain your eligibility, you can receive the grant for up to 12 terms of undergraduate study.

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  1. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Pell Grants."

  2. Federal Student Aid. "Loans."

  3. Federal Student Aid. “Federal Grants Are Money to Help Pay for College or Career School.”

  4. Federal Student Aid. "Did You Know There’s a Maximum Amount of Federal Pell Grant Funds You Can Receive Over Your Lifetime?."

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