1. Learn what the difference between a college and a university is before you complete your college list.
2. Read The Thinking Student's Guide to College: 75 Tips. This book by a professor at Northwestern University explains the critical differences between colleges and universities and also shares lots of ways to squeeze the most out of your future college experience.
3. Look for net price calculators on the websites of the colleges on your list. Many schools have already installed these calculators and all must have them up and running by the end of October.
4. Check out in-house scholarships that colleges offer via Cappex.
5. Learn the difference between applying early decision and early action.
6. Decide if you're going to apply early decision, which can boost your admission odds at many schools. The New York Times published the 2010 early admission stats of many schools on its college blog.
7. Start your college essay today.
8. Get inspired by looking at some cool opening lines from winning college essays from Stanford University.
9. Read college essay tips from a pro.
11. Want to study in a group for the SAT? Sign up for a free account at Grockit.
12. Visit the websites of colleges and sign up for marketing materials at the admission home pages.
13. Research colleges, including majors, graduation rates, tuition, financial aid, freshmen retention rates and more at the federal College Navigator.
14. Not sure what schools offer your potential major? College Navigator can help with that too. Click on the map of the US icon on the home page and find schools in the states you specify.
16. Visit colleges. Some students wait until their acceptance letters arrive before visiting colleges, but I think you're better off visiting first.
17. If you can't visit, check out virtual campus tours that many colleges post on their websites.
18. Look to see if any students at colleges on your list have posted reviews of their schools on Unigo.
19. Write down application and financial aid deadlines on a calendar for schools that interest you.
Read More on CBS MoneyWatch:Where Professors Send Their Children to College
25 Private Colleges With the Best Graduation Rates
Here's the Nation's Easiest College Major
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.
College admission image by robstephaustralia. CC 2.0.