The college application process can be at once exciting and overwhelming.

Considering the costs required—both financially and personally—it’s a good idea to be as strategic as possible with your college applications. To hone your strategy, follow advice from people who have recently been through the process. Here is what current and former students wish they had known—and want you to know—before applying to college.

Do Research

“I wish I’d taken more time to look into the colleges I applied to, specifically regarding the extracurricular activities and the career center. As a young person who is very focused on launching my career right away, I wish I had taken the time to make sure that my chosen school supported me in my endeavors.”

— Gianluca Russo, University of Albany

The Visit Isn’t Everything

“So many people told me, ‘You just know,’ when you walk onto your campus for the first time. This is easy when you are visiting a beautiful green campus in September as the leaves are changing, but that same campus might look a little different come mid-January. Had I paid less attention to this advice, I think I would have focused more on the attributes of the college—class size, major, rural versus suburban—as opposed to how beautiful the campus looked.”

— Avery Silverberg, Chapman University

Apply for Scholarships

“One of the things I wish I had done differently before applying to college is applying for scholarships. It’s very easy to lose sight of opportunities like scholarships that could have made post undergrad life just a tad bit easier.”

— Alan Santillan, Minnesota State University, Moorhead

Reach Out to the School

“In order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of classroom interaction and attention, I wish I had reached out to more admissions counselors, alumni associations and current students to make as many connections as possible within the university. This would have given me a greater insight into the college experience.”

— Anand Kutty, The University of the Potomac

Look Into All Types of Financial Aid

“It would have been helpful if I had known about medical-based financial aid before I applied for college. My family paid for my college for two years before I found out that I qualified for [it] because of my asthma and allergies. Had I known how to apply for medical-based financial aid before college, I could have saved my family the cost of two years’ worth of tuition, books and fees.”

— Jason White, Florida State University and author of The Medical Loophole

Budget for All Costs

“I wish I had known about all the costs associated with college that we don’t typically think of. Like, for example, how expensive school supplies are, and things like printing. Plus, books! You go from never paying a dime for textbooks in [high school] to paying hundreds of dollars each semester.”

— Kathleen Humphries, University of Akron

Kathleen Humphries is a brand ambassador for Cengage, which is not affiliated with or endorsed by Discover Student Loans.

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