Pell Grants For Veterans

Updated: March 23, 2021

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    Many exploring their GI Bill benefit options also explore Pell Grants for veterans–it makes sense to try to extend your GI Bill benefits with other financial aid options to get as far into your academic career as possible. Do veterans qualify for Pell Grants? What does it take to obtain one?

    Pell Grants for Veterans Pell Grants: The Basics

    Eligibility for Pell Grants is determined on a case-by-case basis. Those approved for these grants must meet certain need-based criteria including having no financial contribution from family members toward your education expenses.

    The Pell Grant is a federal program and the first requirement is to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid, which must be completed every single year you wish to request federal college financial assistance such as the Pell Grant. FAFSA is not required for those only using their GI Bill funds, though your college may request you complete one regardless.

    In general (exceptions apply) Pell Grants are normally offered to:

    • Undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need AND
    • Have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree

    Some Pell Grants are permitted for students in approved post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs. Pell Grants are generally not repaid except under certain circumstances that may include:

    • The student withdrew early from the program Pell Grants helped pay for
    • The student’s enrollment status changed in a way that reduced eligibility for the Pell Grant
    • The student received outside scholarships or grants that reduced the need for federal student aid

    The last line is likely the most important one–you will need to discuss your payment options with your chosen college, university, etc. to determine what the most efficient use of your federal student aid options are with or without the use of the GI Bill.

    It is important to note that GI Bill funds are NOT considered federal financial aid for the purposes of calculating your eligibility.

    How Much Pell Grant Can You Get?

    The amount of your Pell Grant will be determined by:

    • The applicant’s Expected Family Contribution
    • The cost of attendance for the school/program
    • The applicant’s status as a full-time or part-time student
    • The student’s plans to attend school (full academic year or not)

    The maximum you can receive from the Pell Grant may vary from year to year. In FY 2020 the limit was $6,345 for the 2020–21 award year which runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.

    Pell Grants are intended for lower-income families. Some sources report that in cases where income is below a certain threshold ($26,000 or less in FY 2020 but these numbers may change year-to-year) you may qualify for the maximum amount.

    The higher your income, the less you may qualify for in Pell Grant funds. Remember that these grants are for undergraduate work and the earlier you consider using them in your college experience, the better. Once you get a Bachelor’s degree or other professional degree, you no longer qualify for a Pell Grant.

    How Many Pell Grants Veterans May Qualify For

    No applicant may receive Federal Pell Grants for more than 12 terms or the equivalent of that which is more or less six years. You may not receive a Pell Grant for more than one college at a time.

    If You Are Eligible For A Pell Grant…

    Those who qualify for a Pell Grant may also qualify for additional funds based on financial need. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is offered for undergrads who have “unmet financial need.”

    Those who qualify may be offered funds in a range (FY 2020 saw that range between $100 and $4,000) that is based on the school and the amount of any Expected Family Contribution. Not all schools participate in FSEOG, but it’s an option worth investigating for those with higher financial need.


    How to Apply For A Pell Grant

    You are considered for a Pell Grant when you submit your completed Free Application For Federal Student Aid.

    Applying For A Pell Grant As A Veteran

    If veterans can use the GI Bill, why do they apply for Pell Grants? This is a great question, and the simple answer is that not all veterans have access to GI Bill funds–they may have used them previously, they may not qualify for the GI Bill at that particular program for some reason, etc.

    And not every veteran uses or wants to use their GI Bill money for undergrad work.

    So with that in mind, what is the most advantageous approach to the Pell Grant? That depends a great deal on the individual student. But in general and without consideration to individual needs, the best time to apply for a Pell Grant would seem to be in situations where a military member is about to retire or separate from military service, and applies while in transition.

    If you are applying as a military member who does not have a new job yet, plans to attend school full-time, and may consider a part-time job to supplement their finances in the future, you are in a unique place to meet the Pell Grant’s income requirements.

    Not having any income at application time qualifies you for consideration in one way, but if your financial position changes you must report that and may experience an adjustment in your grant if the income is too high.

    Why do we mention this? Because you should have a conversation with your admissions counselor/veterans affairs rep about how much you can earn as a part-time worker without jeopardizing your Pell Grant.

    You may apply with no anticipated income and an Expected Family Contribution of zero, but if your income increases during your program, that is something you need to anticipate.

    Special Pell Grant Considerations For Qualifying Children Of Veterans

    There are special considerations for Pell Grant approval offered to the surviving dependents of veterans who meet the qualifying criteria. Qualifying dependents are those who meet the existing Pell Grant requirements AND:

    • Had a parent who was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11, OR
    • Had a parent who was a public safety officer and died as a result of active service in the line of duty

    In these cases the dependent may be eligible “for additional Federal Pell Grant funds” according to StudentAid.gov, if the dependent is, at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death:

    • less than 24 years of age, OR
    • Enrolled in college or career school at least part-time

    StudentAid.gov reminds Pell Grant applicants that those who meet the above requirements will have their basic eligibility will be recalculated “as if your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) were zero.”


    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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