How to Find Out What’s Going On With Your Pell Grant
Sometimes, financial aid seems so complicated that it ought to come with a how-to manual. For example, how do you find out what’s going on with your Pell Grant or other financial aid awards if they don’t arrive by the time you need them?
Jessica, an EducationGrant reader, asked that question, which is a good one. If you’re not sure which federal grants you qualified for or how the money gets to you, here are 4 ideas about where to look for answers.
1) Recheck your Student Aid Report. After you filed your FAFSA, you should have received a federal Student Aid Report (SAR) that told you what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to your college costs would be. If you qualified for a Pell Grant or any other federal grant, it would be noted in your SAR.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you would get a check for the Pell Grant amount, though. Usually, Pell Grants are sent straight to your school, who applies the money directly to your bill: your tuition, fees, and other costs of attendance.
2) Recheck your Financial Aid Award Letter. The school or schools you applied to each sends you an Award Letter to let you know how much financial aid that school can provide you.
The amount of financial aid you qualify for is based on your “unmet need” — the difference between your school’s cost of attendance and your EFC. But even if your EFC is zero, how much aid you actually get depends on whether you’re a fulltime or part-time student, the length of your program, and the amount of need-based funding your school has to offer.
If you qualified for a Pell Grant, your school’s Award Letter will confirm it and include the amount in your total financial aid package.
3) Talk to your school’s financial aid office. If your SAR and Award Letter note that you qualified for a Pell Grant, talk to your financial aid administrator to confirm that your school received the money from the federal government. If they did, then your Pell Grant probably went straight to the school’s Finance office, where it was applied as needed to your tuition, fees, and other attendance charges.
If your cost of attendance was equal to or more than your Pell Grant, you wouldn’t have gotten any “change” back, but if your Pell Grant was more than your cost of attendance, your school would likely have sent you the leftover money. In either case, your financial aid office should be able to determine where your Pell Grant went.
4) Call the U.S. Student Aid Information Center. If you think you must have qualified for a Pell Grant but don’t see any mention of one on your SAR or Award Letter, or if your financial aid office has no record of one, call the federal financial aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243, 1-800-730-8913 (TTY), or 1-319-337-5665. (You may be asked for your FAFSA PIN.) They may be able to review your FAFSA with you or give you other instructions for checking your federal financial aid status online.
By the way, don’t forget that your FAFSA doesn’t automatically renew every year. You’ll need to file a FAFSA for each year you’re in school.
Paying for college is not a simple matter these days. College tuition is up across the country, even at state universities, along with just about every other college-related expense. At some community colleges, not even the new maximum Pell Grant ($5,350 in 2009 and $5,500 in 2010) may be enough to cover the entire cost of attendance.
No matter what’s going on with your financial aid situation, your school’s financial aid office is likely to be your best resource. Look to them for help with navigating your award package, finding potential scholarship opportunities, and appealing for more federal aid if your circumstances allow it.