Tampa Bay college students urged to apply for Pell Grants - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa Bay college students urged to apply for Pell Grants

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Capitol News Service photo. Capitol News Service photo.

It's a reality many parents and students know well --- the cost of college is rising. There is help available in scholarships and grants. But, many people don't even bother applying and students could potentially be losing out on free money.

Millions of Americans are leaving cash on the table. Two million students could have received some college money from the government in the form of a Pell Grant, but they didn't even apply for it.

"It's a grant, so it doesn't have to be paid back. It's free money," said USF Sarasota Manatee Financial Aid Specialist Lisa Kerris.

A Pell Grant is worth about $5,600 for the 2014 school year. Not everyone gets that maximum amount. But, of the two million people who missed out, more than one million would have gotten the full, $5,600.

That's enough to cover about 30 percent of college costs, at a public, in-state school.

“The Pell Grant is just about covering tuition, maybe a little bit shy because over the years, tuition has gone up unfortunately,” said Kerris.

Kerris said the federal government has plans in the works to increase the amount of the Pell Grant.

But why are people leaving so much money on the table?

Many don't think they qualify, so they don't bother applying. That's because the Pell Grant goes predominantly to lower-income Americans. But, income is only one factor in the equation.

"How many members you have in your household, how many are attending college. What your adjusted gross income is and your taxes paid. Those are things they're going to look at the most," said Kerris. The government also considers the cost of college and if the applicant is a full-time or part-time student.

Many people also don't apply because they don't want to take on more debt. But, they may not realize that a Pell Grant is a grant, not a loan. So, it doesn't need to be paid back.

Kerris suggests that students fill out the 'free application for federal student aid', or ‘FAFSA,' as its known. Kerris says you have absolutely nothing to lose.

“We always urge students, even if you don’t think you’re going to qualify for any aid, you still should fill out a FAFSA, because you’ll qualify for what’s called a tuition deferment and that makes it so that instead of having to pay your tuition by the first week of classes, it defers your payment until about the middle of the semester,” she said.

Filling out a FAFSA is easy and it’s free. You'll find the link here: http://fafsa.gov

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