The United States government and all U.S. state governments provide merit- and need-based student aid including grants, work-study, and loans.
As of 2010 there are nine federal and 605 state student aid programs and many of the nearly 7,000 post-secondary institutions provide merit aid. Major federal grants include the Pell Grants, Federal SEOG Grants, SMART Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG Grant), Federal Work-Study Program, federal Stafford Loans (in subsidized and unsubsidized forms), state student incentive grants and Federal PLUS Loans.

State governments also typically provide some types of need- and non-need-based aid, consisting of grants, loans, work-study programs, tuition waivers, and scholarships.

To apply for most students aid, a student must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by submitting the application electronically to the U.S. Department of Education’s using the Department of Education’s website, mailing a paper form or, as the law also authorizes, by getting professional assistance from a fee-based preparer.

Types of College Grants.

Merit based aid:
Merit-based grants or scholarships include scholarships awarded by the college or university and those awarded by outside organizations.
Merit-based scholarships are typically awarded for outstanding academic achievements and maximum SAT or ACT scores.
Scholarships may be given because of group affiliation (such as YMCA, Boys Club, etc.).
Merit scholarships are sometimes awarded without regard for the financial need of the applicant.
At many colleges, every admitted student is automatically considered for merit scholarships.
At other institutions, a separate application process is required. Scholarships do not need to be repaid as long as all requirements are met.

Need based aid:
Need-based financial aid is awarded on the basis of the financial need of the student.

• The Free Application for Federal Student Aid application (FAFSA) is generally used for determining federal, state, and institutional need-based aid eligibility. These scholarships usually have more generous financial qualification criteria, and many are endowed specifically for the student who wants to attend college, but whose parents make too much money for him to qualify for most federal programs. A need based scholarship may pay partial or full tuition, housing costs, and sometimes a books stipend.

• Some have more specific criteria than others, but they all attempt to ease the burden of affording college and to make it easier for intelligent or economically/demographically disadvantaged students to get much needed educational opportunities. For private endowments, a supplemental application may be necessary for institutional need-based aid.

College scholarships are not always based on academic achievement or financial need. These are scholarships where applicants must initially qualify by race, gender, religion, family and medical history, or many other student-specific factors.
There are scholarships available on the basis of –
a) Women or Minorities
b) International Students
c) Students returning to college after a long hiatus
d) Someone beating a tough illness
e) Students actively involved in the community etc.

Make a list of what makes you special, and investigate the major organizations, local groups and private corporations that may have funding set aside for education for student specific grants you may not have come across otherwise.

Career-specific Scholarships
These are scholarships awarded by a college or university to students planning to pursue a specific field of study. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—STEM subjects—have been the focus of intense diversification efforts in the last decade. You can expect to find abundant scholarships in any of these fields. Also, Nursing and Teaching are two of the leading subject-specific scholarship areas that are also popular.  Health-care, law, arts and other studies too have career specific scholarships available.
If other scholarships mentioned above do not fit your purpose, focusing the scholarship lens on ‘Career’ will definitely help.

How to Apply for College Grant.
The government wants to do more than just provide college grants. While it is true that funding is an important part of any education initiative, it also is true that education and policy are equally important. Because this is the case, many students go to government grant resources to find out how to choose schools and how to prepare for college. The government is offering you money to go to college. It only follows that the government wants to educate you so that you can spend that money wisely.

If you want to make sure that you are successful when you apply for college grants, you are going to want to get started as soon as possible. Your first step should be to get registered in the system. There are a number of qualifications that people need in order to get awarded grants, including income and residency factors. You can find out immediately if you are eligible to go through the grant application process.

Once you have received confirmation that you are in the system and eligible to apply for college grants, your next step will be to find the grants from which you can benefit. If you have a particular area of interest and you have already demonstrated proficiency in that field, you should feel encouraged to research grants for students who are working in particular fields.

Students who need college grants in order to apply for grants awarded to students who are economically disadvantaged are going to need to provide all requested financial information. This can take time, so you should plan accordingly.