8 Things to Do Before You Start Applying for College

Jul 21, 2023 2 min read

The college application process can be both exciting and daunting, but a little preparation can go a long way toward setting you up for success. Whether you’re staying in-state or vying for a spot in schools across the country, here’s what to know about colleges before applying.

What to Do Before College Application Season

Have you ever wondered what you need to go to college? From test scores and transcripts to fees and financial aid, the steps below can help take the stress out of the application process.

1. Research Application Deadlines

For many students and their families, the first question that comes up is often, “When should I start applying for college?” Luckily, this is an easy one to answer, as each college has specific deadlines for when applications are due. Identify the due dates and work backward from there, giving yourself plenty of time to compile forms, documents and fees.

2. Budget for Application Fees

Application fees can range anywhere from $30 to $90 and depending on how many schools you want to apply for, that number can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars. Plan ahead and try to set aside enough money to cover the cost of fees, look for schools that don’t charge application fees or apply for a fee waiver if you meet the criteria for financial need.

3. Investigate Financial Aid Options

Each college only has so many full-ride scholarships to offer, but even if you don’t qualify to have all your college expenses covered, you do have options. Visit the Federal Student Aid website to learn about grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs.

4. Calculate Community Service Hours

The ideal number of volunteer hours you should generally have for a college application is between 50 and 200 hours. With fewer than 50 hours of volunteer work, college admissions officers may draw the conclusion that you were not committed enough to a cause to designate a substantial amount of time to it. Striving for more than 200 hours may lead to burnout when combined with schoolwork and extracurriculars. 

5. Review Extracurriculars 

When it comes to after-school activities, there’s no single club or hobby that will guarantee you a spot at your dream school. Rather than stacking your resume with a million different things you’ve tried, opt for a select few activities that you’re truly interested in and that you excel at. And keep in mind — most colleges view extracurriculars as less important than grades, course rigor and test scores.

6. Fill Out FAFSA Forms

In order to be considered for financial aid, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Even if you don’t anticipate receiving a Pell Grant, it’s still worth filling out the FAFSA — nearly all students who apply qualify for some form of federal financial aid.

7. Understand Transcript Requirements

The transcript demonstrates your strength of schedule, improvement over time and overall performance in high school, giving colleges a way to predict how you’ll perform in college. While you may send unofficial high school transcripts at the time of application, you will still need to have the official ones sent, by your guidance counselor or school registrar administrators, directly to the university. Keep in mind that any acceptance offer can be rescinded if the unofficial transcripts don’t match up with the official ones. 

8. Plan College Visits

College visits are often the most expensive and time-consuming part of the college application process — but can also be one of the best ways to find out if a certain school is a good fit for you. In order to cut back on costs, try to combine all your visits into one or two trips, or consider visiting only your top three choices.

Investing in the Future

It’s never too early to plan for your child’s education. Talk to a Farm Bureau financial advisor about building a financial plan to help you balance college funding with your other financial commitments. 

Want to learn more?

Contact a local FBFS agent or advisor for answers personalized to you.