If you cannot afford the cost of a higher education, your options are not limited to scholarships and student loans. Pell grants, offered through the federal government, provide financial aid to students to help offset the cost of a college education. The amount applicants receive varies depending on their level of financial need, the school they attend and the year in which they apply. In some cases, students can even procure Pell grant money for non-credit college courses.
You can put funds you receive from the Pell grant toward paying your tuition on non-credit courses that are remedial and help prepare you for the more rigorous coursework your chosen field of study requires. You must apply for and be admitted into your chosen field before taking the non-credit courses. If you are enrolled in a remedial program, however, rather than a traditional course of study, the Pell grant will not fund any courses you take that do not award college credits. Only non-credit courses that fall within an approved course of study are eligible for financial aid using the Pell grant.
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Although federal guidelines note that students may use their Pell grant money to pay for remedial courses, limitations do apply. The Pell grant will fund no more than 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours of non-credit courses. If you exceed this limit, you must pay for the courses on your own or seek financial aid from another source. You cannot use any form of federal aid, including federal student loans, to fund additional non-credit college courses.
Although federal aid programs typically do not pay for English as a Second Language courses, the Pell grant will cover ESL courses provided those classes are a necessary part of your field of study – whether they provide college credits or not.
If you need additional non-credit courses beyond what the Pell grant covers, consider taking out a private student loan. Some lenders stipulate that the courses you take must provide you with college credits, while others will permit you to spend your loan money on whichever classes you wish provided you pass a credit check.
Check with your school's financial aid office if you need additional assistance beyond what the Pell grant will cover. Some schools can provide you with scholarships or grants for coursework that does not award college credits.
Unaccredited online universities are often much cheaper than accredited schools, but even if an accredited degree program accepts credits you earned at an unaccredited university, the U.S. Department of Education does not. All of the courses you enroll in at an unaccredited university are non-credit courses by the federal government's standards. Thus, you are not eligible for financial aid through the Pell grant when you attend a school that lacks formal accreditation.
- U.S. Department of Education; Federal Pell Grant; May, 2011
- U.S. Department of Education: Information for Financial Aid Professionals – Student Eligibility; February, 2011 (p. 1-4)
- Anne Arundel Community College: Financial Aid for Continuing Education Courses; September, 2010
- MatchACollege; How to Get a College Pell Grant for an Online University; 2011
- CollegeBoard; What Is a Pell Grant?; 2011
- StudentBank.com: 101 Ways to Pay for College; 2011