Pell Grants are a type of federal student aid, typically awarded to students enrolled in an undergraduate program, although some exceptions may apply. Pell Grants can be used to cover the cost of attendance at many of the thousands of postsecondary institutions across the country. As of the 2017–2018 academic year, the total possible yearly amount for a Pell Grant was $5,920. However, the amount awarded varies depending on financial need.

As with all types of federal student aid, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If and when a student receives a Pell Grant, students must continue to fill out a yearly FAFSA to continue to qualify.

The total amount awarded depends on a few factors, including financial need, the full cost of attendance, whether you are a full-time or part-time student, and your plans for attendance during the academic year.

What is the Pell Grant Lifetime Limit?

Under federal law, there is a maximum limit to how much a student can receive from the Pell Grant program. Unlike other programs with a specific maximum amount, the Pell Grant lifetime limit is a slightly more complicated formula. The Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU), is calculated off the percentage of the grant awarded on a yearly basis, for up to six years. The maximum allowable Pell grant is 100 percent per year for six years, which equates to 600 percent. If a student uses 100 percent of their awarded grant, for six years, they will have maxed out their LEU.

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For example, if you were eligible to receive $5,000 for one academic year, but were only enrolled for one semester, you would only use $2,500, or 50 percent of the grant, for one year. You would have 550 percent left of your LEU.

How to Maximize the Pell Grant

Because there is a time limit of six years on the Pell Grant, students can take a few steps to maximize the potential amount received under the program. One method is to plan to attend for the full academic year, not just for one semester. This will help to ensure you receive the full 100 percent of your awarded grant for the year.

Another step to increase the total amount is to ensure you include all applicable variables into the calculated cost of attendance. Finally, planning to attend full time instead of part-time will also increase the dollar amount awarded on a yearly basis.