Save time and money on your kid's college search

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Applying to college is a difficult process. Guidance counselors are overwhelmed. It's tempting to pay $5,000 or more to a private college counseling service to help your child, but when you add in travel to half a dozen potential schools you're looking at a hefty price tag.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to spend less time and money and still get the necessary information:

1. Check out books from the library on applying to college. Some of the best-known college counselors write books on the process as a way to bolster their credentials and extend their brands. By getting their books at the library, you pay nothing for this wisdom. Why not take advantage of it? You and your high school student can both read up and brainstorm strategies.

2. Practice the SAT or ACT on your own. Sure, a course can help. But so can simply being familiar with the tests. Buy (or check out) a book of practice tests, as well as a book of test-taking strategies, and save yourself hundreds of dollars right there.

3. Use Unigo for college counseling. Unigo, the website with college reviews from students, now offers a new service where you can be matched with a college counselor, and pay by the hour (rather than buying a 4-figure package). He or she can guide you through any rough patches, or you can set up more regular chats.

4. Use Unigo to "visit" colleges in a pinch. While it's always nice to visit a school in person, you're unlikely to get the real scoop on any school from the official tour. Another idea? Unigo will (for a fee) match you up for video chats with students at your prospective schools who are as similar to you as you wish. Are you an Asian-American woman looking to major in English? They will hook you up with female Asian-American English majors.

5. Hire an editor off Craigslist to polish your essay. Hire a few and take the best advice from each. You'll probably still come out ahead compared with a pricey private counselor.