Need-based grants and scholarships offer individuals help to pay for tuition to a university, but the free money doesn't go to just anyone. Obtaining this type of financial aid to fund your education takes planning and work. Some factors, such as household income, are out of your control, but other qualifications are based on what you do. Techniques to improve your chances of getting a grant or scholarship include getting good marks, scoring high on standardized tests, writing winning essays and filling out lots of applications.

Work hard to obtain high grades in high school. Universities and scholarship providers look at your transcript for evidence you not only deserve help in gaining a higher education, but that you will be able to handle the demanding classes once you are there.

Fill out your Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. "U.S. News and World Report" says not to wait until your parents file their taxes but to estimate the household income and make changes later as needed. The information in your FAFSA determines your eligibility for financial aid, including grants, from the government or other sources.

Prepare to score high on the Scholastic Assessment Test or American College Test. These standardized tests are often considered important not only by schools but by grant and scholarship providers. Buy a guide with practice problems on the specific test you will be taking. Take a class that helps prepare test takers through a tutoring center or library. Retake the SAT or ACT if you want to raise your score, but consider the cost associated with the retake.

Engage in community service, athletics, community groups and academic organizations as you prepare for college. These extracurricular activities increase your odds of earning scholarships because colleges are looking for well-rounded individuals and not just the academically gifted. List all your extracurricular activities on grant and scholarship applications.

Consult the financial aid offices of the colleges you are considering attending. Ask for applications for any in-house grants or scholarships they offer. Explain that you need help in affording tuition and other costs. Request help in obtaining the funding you need.

Talk with your guidance counselor if you are still attending high school. He is your link to find local sources of aid, including scholarships from clubs and other organizations. Ask your counselor for tips on what to write on your applications.

Search for scholarship opportunities through the Fastweb website. This site provides an extensive directory of scholarships available to students. Fastweb also provides general information regarding college and how to afford it.

Apply for scholarships offered to a particular niche of students. Many opportunities are available for people majoring in a certain field, minorities, women, children of veterans and special needs individuals. There is even a scholarship available for left-handed people.

Learn as much as you can about the criteria a particular scholarship committee uses to decide who should receive awards. The FinAid website advises you to tailor your application to the criteria. Showcase how your background and experiences fit the requirements for the award.

Ask teachers, employers and community leaders for written recommendations. Most applications will ask for at least one recommendation from someone who knows you well. Ask for these letters well in advance of application due dates.

Write an essay that makes you stand out and leaves a positive impact on readers. Use active voice and write the way you speak to allow your personality to show in your written words. Proofread your essay multiple times. Even one mistake could take you out of the running for an award. Ask for peers and adults in your life to read the essay to get additional opinions.

Vie for valedictorian or salutatorian status because some colleges on your dream list might offer particular scholarships for those who reach those levels.

Submit all required materials for the financial aid awards. Check the deadlines to ensure your application arrives in time.

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