We have been through the process twice in the past five years (youngest D will be a college freshman in 6 weeks!). Really -- go to College Confidential's discussion area. You won't find enough people on this forum who have successfully navigated it recently to get solid advice. On CC you can really learn the ins and outs of how to maximize your need based and merit based financial aid, hear about how to balance grades vs. test scores vs. ECs when looking at your kids chances for schools, get suggestions on reach/match/safety schools, explore the pros and cons of visiting and what to do on visits, endlessly discuss the pros and cons of Early Action and Early Decision applications, and just about anything else you could ever think to ask regarding college. The landscape HAS changed unbelievably since we went to college, but CC is a fantastic resource to help you navigate through it.