Pell Grants for Felons – Government Grants for college and school education

If you have been convicted of a felony, then going back to school / college to complete your education can open a lot of doors and get you job opportunities which you might not get otherwise.

However, the problem is that college education is costly and is increasing each year. 

Felons often struggle with their finances after serving their jail time and high college fees might deter them from going ahead with their education plans.

The good news is that there are a lot of Federal and State grants available which will pay for partial or full tuition fees as well as for supplies, books and other living expenses while you are attending college .

What is a Pell Grant?

A Pell Grant is a need based education grant for undergraduate students to enroll in college or technical school. This program is offered by the Federal government to students who display financial need. 

The best part is that a pell grant is not a loan and does not have to be repaid like a student loan (except under certain circumstances). There are no specific Pell Grants for felons but most educational grants allow felons to apply just like any other student.

The maximum Federal Pell Grant for 2020-21 award year is $6345. The amount of student receives depends on the following factors –

  • Your expected family contribution
  • The cost of attendance as determined by your school
  • Whether you are a part time or full time student
  • Whether you attend a full academic year or less

Note that the Pell Grant is given only to undergraduate students. Once you have earned your bachelor’s degree or your first professional degree you won’t be eligible to receive the grant.

What is Eligibility Criteria for Pell Grant?

In order to be eligible to receive a Pell Grant, you have to fulfill the following requirements

  • You must demonstrate financial need
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  • Must have a valid social security number
  • If you are a male then you have to be registered with selective service (between the ages 18 and 25)
  • Be enrolled in an eligible degree / certificate program
  • Not be a defaulter in Federal student loan or grant
  • Have a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or school

Are Felons eligible for Pell Grants?

Felons often have a misconception that due to their criminal records they might not be eligible or qualify to receive a Pell grant but that is not the case.

Felons can apply for federal student aid. However, you cannot get a Pell Grant while you are incarcerated but you can apply once you are released. 

You can not receive a Federal Pell Grant if you are convicted for a sexual offense (forcible or non forcible) or subject to an involuntary civil commitment after completing a period of incarceration for that offense.

If you are convicted for a drug-related offense, you can regain your eligibility by successfully completing an approved drug rehabilitation program or by passing two unannounced drug tests administered by an approved drug rehabilitation program. 

If the drug related crime occurred after receiving a student aid, it might affect your eligibility.

How to apply for a Pell Grant?

You can start by submitting a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. While filling the form it is important to be honest and disclose details of your felony conviction. Also, be truthful and report your finances and family contribution amount .

Remember, many states and colleges have deadlines to submit FAFSA application forms. There is also a Federal deadline each academic year. So, make sure you submit your application before the deadline to be considered.

How do I maintain my grant?

To maintain your grant it is important that you – 

  • Be enrolled in an undergraduate program in a U.S. based school. 
  • Fill out the FAFSA form each year that you are in school .
  • Have not used up all of your twelve semesters aid.

Are there other student aid programs available?

Yes. If due to some reason you do not qualify for the Pell Grant, there are other student aid programs which might help you out. Some of the other Federal student grant programs are –

  1. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) – Annual Award up to $4,000
  2. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant – Annual award up to $3,764 
  3. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant – Annual award up to $5,829.50

To know more details and eligibility criteria check out this article – Federal Grant Programs.

Apart from Federal grants there are several state and private grants available for students.


Having a college degree can improve your job prospects. It can help felons secure a job and re-enter the society leading a normal life. Getting a college degree after serving jail time shows your future employer that you have reformed and can be trusted. 

It is important for felons to select a college major or a professional course that will help them find a job after completing the program. Felons should choose a course that allows them to work in a field where their past records don’t come in the way of them getting hired.

Image Credits : Photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels