Students often think that they cannot afford college, even if this is the furthest from the truth. For students whose families make a combined $20,000 or less annually, a Pell Grant is one way to pay for college.

According to the U.S. Department of Education the Pell Grant Program “provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education.” In comparison to other loans, a Pell Grant is different for a variety of reasons.

The biggest difference is that this grant does not have to be repaid, unlike private or government loans. There is a maximum award each year for a Pell Grant per student. The limit for the 2011-2012 year is $5,550. The amount that a student earns is based off their financial need, school costs and status.

Just who is qualified for a Pell Grant? This varies mostly based on financial need. This number is based on a standard formula that figures all income that comes into a home. Families’ income is based on assets, the parents’ income and their assets, the household size and how many students are currently in postsecondary school. Financial need varies based on if the student is independent or dependent and if they are full- or part-time students.

Pell Grants not only help students afford school, but the program also helps determine which schools are the most economically diverse. U.S. News and World Report released a list of economically diverse colleges, using the amount of awarded Pell Grants to determine just how many people are seeking different way to pay for college bills and living expenses. The list explored the top schools that accepted students who were just below or above the Pell Grant cut-off.

New Mexico State University topped the list of most economically diverse schools because 99 percent of the students received some form of a Pell Grant to attend the university. Texas A&M was surprisingly second on the list with 91 percent of students utilizing the program. Kent State University was third with 88 percent, while Texas Southern University had 84 percent of students attending with a Pell Grant.

The Eastern side of the country also made the list with Southern Carolina State University (82 percent) and Florida Institute of Technology (79 percent) were found in the middle of the list.  Florida A&M University, Tennessee State University, National-Louis University and the University of Texas El Paso rounded out the list, with El Paso having a student population of 68 percent using the program.

One may conclude from the results that Texas is one state that has the highest use of the program, but let’s not forget this is one of the biggest states in the country. Therefore more students are using programs to complete college degrees.

For more information on Pell Grants, visit your financial aid office.

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