A Pell Grant can significantly decrease your out-of-pocket cost when attending college. The method for calculating the amount you receive depends on a variety of factors, including the cost of attendance at the school and the number of credits you take each semester. You will get all of the Pell Grant money for which you qualify, either to use for tuition or for other expenses.
Calculate Semester Award
Each semester, the financial aid administrator at your school calculates the award you will receive from the federal government that semester. The administrator takes your initial award, which was likely based on full-time attendance, and multiplies it by a part-time factor if you are not enrolled full-time. For example, if you are only taking 10 credits, this is considered three-quarters enrollment, so your award is multiplied by 0.75. The financial aid administrator then confirms that the Pell Grant plus your expected family contribution for that semester do not exceed the school's cost of attendance for you. If it does, the grant is further reduced.
Applying the Award
When the school receives your semester Pell Grant award from the federal government, it applies this amount to your bill at the school. The bill always includes tuition and fees. The financial aid office can also apply the Pell Grant to your on-campus room and board charges if you are living on campus. Any money left is given to you in the form of a check. You might consider that to be unused money because it wasn't needed for your school bill, but your Pell Grant can also cover your off-campus living expenses, books, supplies, transportation to and from school and personal expenses.
The only time a Pell Grant might have an unused portion is if you got the Pell Grant based on a full-time course schedule but then did not enroll full-time. In this situation, you will only receive the part of the award that you earn based on the number of credits you take. You forfeit the rest of the award if it is still unused at the end of the academic year.
Using the Full Award
The best way to use your full Pell Grant award each year is to enroll full-time for a full academic year. Check with your school's financial aid office to find out how many credits you need to take during each semester or quarter to be considered a full-time student. If you happen to take less than a full course load during one or more academic terms, consider taking summer courses to get the remainder of your Pell Grant for the year.