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What is the lifetime limit for the Pell Grant?

With no fixed cap, it all depends on how much you personally qualify for each year.

Updated

How much you can receive in Pell Grants while you’re an undergraduate depends on the amount you qualify for each year. Full-time students who finish their degree by taking four years of fall and spring courses won’t reach their limit. But undergrads in five-year programs or those who take summer courses might reach their limit before they graduate.

How the lifetime limit for the Pell Grant works

Your lifetime limit for the Pell Grant is 100% of your full-time award per year — over six years.

However, how much you’re eligible to receive each year depends on four factors:

  • Expected family contribution (EFC)
  • School’s cost of attendance (COA)
  • Enrollment status
  • Federal maximum Pell Grant award available that year

To qualify for 100% of the Pell Grant award, you need to be enrolled full time for the entire academic year and meet EFC and COA requirements set by the Department of Education (DoE).

Because the DoE changes the maximum Pell Grant award available each year, how much you’re eligible to receive will vary from year to year — even if your family’s finances and COA stay the same.

How do I reach my lifetime limit if it’s capped at 100% per year?

You might reach your Pell Grant lifetime limit before six years are up if you’re enrolled full time in fall, spring and summer courses. Known as a year-round Pell Grant, you’d receive 150% of your annual Pell Grant award.

Because Pell Grants are capped at 600% of your award each year, you can only receive up to four years of year-round Pell Grants.

What’s the Pell Grant’s Lifetime Eligibility Used?

The Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) is the percentage of your lifetime limit you’ve already received through the Federal Pell Grant Program during an award period. It’s based on what the Department of Education calls your scheduled award, or the amount you’d receive if you were enrolled full time for the fall and spring semesters.

Your LEU depends on two factors:

  • Enrollment status. Your LEU is 75% if you’re enrolled three quarters time, 50% if you’re enrolled half time and 25% if you’re enrolled less than half time during a semester.
  • Number of semesters per year. Your LEU is 50% if you only take one semester full time, 100% if you take a full academic year of courses or 150% if you enroll in the summer semester as well.

Your maximum LEU is 600%. If your LEU is over 500% for your last year of school, you won’t be able to receive your full scheduled award, even if you’re enrolled full time.

Let’s take a look at an example …

There are two students who are eligible for Pell Grants:

  • Student A enrolls full time for all four years and takes summer courses for two semesters.
  • Student B takes five years to graduate by enrolling half time for two years.

Here’s how each of their LEUs might break down:

Year in school Student A Student B
Year 1
  • Scheduled award: $1,000
  • Amount received: $1,000
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 100%
  • LEU: 100%
  • Scheduled award: $2,000
  • Amount received: $2,000
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 100%
  • LEU: 100%
Year 2
  • Scheduled award: $900
  • Amount received: $900
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 100%
  • LEU: 200%
  • Scheduled award: $2,500
  • Amount received:$2,500
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 100%
  • LEU: 200%
Year 3
  • Scheduled award: $1,000
  • Amount received: $1,500
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 150%
  • LEU: 350%
  • Scheduled award: $3,000
  • Amount received: $3,000
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 100%
  • LEU: 300%
Year 4
  • Scheduled award: $800
  • Amount received: $1,200
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 150%
  • LEU: 500%
  • Scheduled award:$3,000
  • Amount received: $1,500
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 50%
  • LEU: 350%
Year 5 No award
  • Scheduled award: $3,000
  • Amount received: $1,500
  • Percentage of annual Pell Grant used: 50%
  • LEU: 400%
Total LEU 500% 400%

How can I find out what my LEU is?

While you can crunch the numbers yourself, an easier way to find out your LEU is to log in to your account on StudentAid.gov. To log in, you need your FSA ID and password, which you created when you filled out the FAFSA.

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Bottom line

Lifetime limits for the Federal Pell Grant aren’t capped at a fixed amount, but are based on how much you would be eligible to receive as a full-time student enrolled for the fall and spring semester. If you take summer courses or have an extended degree program, you might want to keep track of your LEU each year to make sure you don’t come up short that last year.

You can learn more about paying for college with our guide to student loans.

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