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Can a Student Receive a Pell Grant for a Second College Degree?

Mark Kantrowitz

October 01, 2012

I am a 25-year-old woman looking to go back to school for a second degree in a different field of study than my original degree. I am married to an enlisted sailor and currently unemployed. For my first degree I did not fill out the FAFSA and therefore I did not receive any federal aid in the form of grants or loans. Now that I’m wanting to go back to school I will fill out the FAFSA, but I was wondering if the fact that I have not filled it out before and have not used federal resources might count in my favor to actually receive federal grants this time around. Is that possible or will the fact that I’m seeking a second degree make me completely ineligible for that type of aid? — Diana R.

Eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant is restricted to students who do not already have a Bachelor’s degree.

If a student is seeking a second Bachelor’s degree, she will not be able to get a Pell Grant regardless of whether she received federal student aid in the past or not. (Such a student remains eligible for the Federal Stafford loan, up to the annual and aggregate loan limits, as well as the Federal Work-Study program.)

If the student’s previous degree was an Associate’s degree or certificate, however, she will potentially be eligible for a Pell Grant. So long as the student has not yet received a Bachelor’s degree, she remains eligible for the Pell Grant.

Aside from the restriction to a first Bachelor’s degree, a student who has not previously used the Pell Grant will have more semesters of Pell Grant eligibility remaining than a student who previously received Pell Grant funding.

Pell Grants and Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU)

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 imposed a new lifetime limit on the number of semesters of Pell Grant funding available to a student, effective July 1, 2012. Undergraduate students are now eligible to receive the equivalent of at most 12 semesters of Pell Grant funding. (Previously students were eligible for up to 18 semesters of Pell Grant eligibility.) The limit applies to all Pell Grant funding ever received by the student, not just funding received since the effective date of the legislation.

The US Department of Education has introduced a new concept and acronym to measure a student’s remaining eligibility for the Pell Grant. The Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) is the number of years worth of Pell Grant funding remaining, expressed as a percentage. For example, 100% represents a full year of eligibility, so 600% represents the equivalent of 12 semesters of eligibility. If a student receives a Pell Grant while enrolled on a half-time basis for a full award year, the Pell Grant will be half of the Pell Grant to which the student was entitled, increasing the LEU by 50%. Likewise, if a student receives a Pell Grant while enrolled full-time for just one semester, the LEU will be increased by 50%.

In 2009-10 and 2010-11, students enrolled in accelerated degree programs could have received two Pell Grants in a single year. Such students will have their LEUs increased by 200% for the two Pell Grants, not 100%.


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