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Common wisdom dictates that when you are approaching a big project, the best way to deal with it is to break it down into smaller bite-size pieces.

When tackling the campus visit component of the college admissions process, I advise families to “start local.”

Campus visits are expensive and time-consuming. Before investing in a college trip to Colorado for the family because your son wants to snowboard, make sure it’s worthwhile for everyone by visiting a similar-sized college closer to home.

The nice part about these “trial visits” is that they should be as stress-free as possible. You’re really going to check out the differences between private vs. public, small vs. large, small town vs. large city, etc. Go local first, and then branch out based on reactions to each campus.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser who is based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at www.collegeadmissions strategies.com.