It takes years to plan how you will pay for a college education. Many parents start putting away money as soon as their child is born in hopes that by the time he or she is old enough to go to college there will be enough money on hand to cover the cost. While careful planning is crucial to a successful college career, there are things you can do if the money saved is not enough when the time comes. Many are eligible to take advantage of the free money available by applying for college grants. If you plan to cover either a portion of your college tuition or the full amount here are some tips to help you get the grants you need.

Determine How Much You Need:

Before you file your application it helps to know how much money you're going to need. Whether you're applying for a federal grant or one from a private institution, it is important that you have a complete understanding of your financial need and that your application reflects realistic expectations. Your need will determine the type of grants you apply for and even establish your eligibility requirements.

Merit-Based Vs. Need-Based:

There are two different types of grants you can apply for: merit-based and need-based. Merit-based grants are granted on the basis of your academic performance as a student and are often awarded by private institutions or schools. Need-based grants are usually based solely on the financial circumstances of your family. These can be received from both governmental agencies and private institutions.

When applying for college grants that are based on merit, your performance in school will carry much weight. To find these grants start with your school guidance counselor or check online at some of the free grant websites like or

Know The Deadlines:

It is not enough to know that you may qualify for a grant; you also need to fill out the application and get it in on or before the deadline. Even if the school year is well into the future, many financial aid applications will have deadlines that you will have to meet. Getting your application in late could be the very thing that will disqualify you from obtaining needed money when the time comes. Some organizations will allow you to apply as early as January 1st even if school isn't starting until the fall of that year. Federal grants may allow you to apply the year before you plan to enter college. Whatever the case, it is better to apply as soon as you can get all your paperwork together. Early applications could even qualify you for additional money.

Applying for college grants may seem like an easy task. Just find the money and submit your application. However, there is much involved in getting your application to where it needs to be. The sooner you can get everything submitted the better your chances of getting the money you need to start your education. Getting a college degree is a major undertaking both financially and time wise. Why not take some of the burden off yourself and take advantage of the free money that is available to so many students who otherwise wouldn't have a chance to get that education.