Paying for a college education is often challenging. Although loans may help, there are other types of financial aid for students. Grants are one type of financial assistance college students should consider. The difference between grants and loans is that grants to do not have be paid back. There are different types of grants available and almost all applications are free. Keep in mind some grants may also be available for graduate school and technical schools.

Be sure your school is accredited. In order to qualify for grants, you must attend a school recognized by a national or regional accrediting agency. There are dozens of recognized accrediting agencies. The U.S. Department of Education website offers a database of accredited colleges where you can search for your school and determine what type of accreditation the school has.

Gather all the needed documents. When you apply for most types of student grants, you will need to provide certain financial information. If your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes, you need copies of their tax returns and bank statements. You also need your own bank statement and if you have income, a copy of your tax returns. Although you don't have to provide copies of your social security card and drivers license, you will need to document these numbers on the application.

Apply for need-based grants. Several state and federal grants are available to students who are considered in need due to their income. These grants can be located through the Department of Education or financial aid departments.

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application is required to apply for federal aid such as grants. It is also usually required when applying for state aid. The U.S. Department of Education oversees the Federal Student Aid Office. Applications can be filled out online and submitted electronically.

Consider applying for merit-based grants. Not all student grants are for students with low incomes. Certain grants are available based on academic achievement. Merit-based grants may be found through school guidance counselors, the financial aid office at the school you are applying to, and websites such as

Pay close attention to application deadlines. All applications for student grants have deadlines by which you must apply. Be sure to follow all guidelines. Students who miss deadlines may not be eligible for grant money.

Research career specific grants. Some merit grants may be awarded to students who excel academically and are going into a specific field. For example, there are merit grants available for teaching majors. Find career specific grants through high school guidance counselors and the financial aid department at colleges and universities.