The cost of college is a major expense for any family pursuing higher education, but it’s important to note that the money suck begins way before the first tuition bill. It starts with the college-bound teenager’s application process, and it can put a sizable dent in your overall budget if the student is casting a wide net. You can defray this expense, however, with these money-saving tips that make the college-application process more affordable. (See also: The Encouraging Truth About How Americans Are Covering the Cost of College)

Consult a guidance counselor for advice before beginning the process

Your best resource for navigating the college-selection and application process is your student’s guidance counselor. College admissions is a huge part of their job, and they have plenty of tips and tricks on how to get through it in a cost-efficient manner.

Narrow down your choices

Apply to fewer schools to save more money. Jason Patel, founder of college-prep company Transizion suggests applying to two reach schools, at least three target schools, and three safety schools to keep the total application fees low. If you’ve researched these choices well enough to determine that your student is a good fit, you shouldn’t have to apply to any more than that. (See also: How College Applicants Can Tour Scores of Campuses for $15 or Less)

Plan ahead to avoid errors and last-minute panic

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