Pell Grants: Leaving Free Cash on the Table

Don’t overlook free money.

That’s unfortunately happening too often as students and families try to figure out how to pay for college.

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Education concluded that nearly 40% of full-time students who attend community college don’t fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Even more amazing, 29% students with family incomes of less than $10,000 don’t bother.

Many community college students would qualify for federal Pell Grants — that’s free cash  —  if they just filled out the FAFSA.

Even if your family wouldn’t qualify for a Pell Grant — incomes typically can’t exceed $40,000–you might be eligible for state aid. Some states award cash grants for needy families, but others award money based on academic achievement.

A family can make more than you might think possible to qualify for some state programs. For instance, solidly middle-class California students can receive Cal Grants that pay for tuition at state schools or can pay for up to $10,000 for tuition at private colleges and universities in California. For a family of four, a student could be eligible if the household income doesn’t exceed the mid-to-high $70,000 range.

To qualify for state or federal aid, you should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Families with high school seniors will complete this form beginning January 1 or later. Once you file the form electronically with the federal government it will forward the information to your state.

Here is a list of state education departments from

You can learn much more about financial aid by reading my book, The College Solution.

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