If you have a college-bound son or daughter, then you’ve probably got a lot on your mind these days. The college application process can be one of the most exciting and stressful times of their life, and you are a passenger on that crazy ride.

There are hundreds of colleges and universities out there and it can be an overwhelming task to help your student find the right one to meet his needs. Unless you’ve got a magic wand that will make the perfect school pop out of thin air, you and your student have a lot of research to do. Thanks to the wealth of online college information and resources now available, researching schools is a lot easier than it was when you were looking for your school.

Tips for keeping the college search on track

Here are four tips that will keep you and your student on track during the college search:

1. Be realistic. Your student has long been the apple of your eye, but admissions counselors may not necessarily share your point of view. It’s important for you as a parent to keep realistic expectations and help your kids to do the same.

Encourage your son or daughter to apply to schools that are a good match for his GPA and test scores to prevent unnecessary disappointment. This doesn’t mean you should give up the hope of that dream school that seems a bit out of reach. Tap into your son’s passions and interests to give his application that extra pizzazz that will help him stand out.

If you are curious about your student’s chances of getting in to college, some online sites offer “What Are My Chances?” tools that allow your student to enter his test scores, GPA, AP or honors classes, and extracurricular activities in order to get a realistic snapshot of admissions odds.

2. Narrow the playing field.Your mailbox is most likely getting bombarded by glossy brochures and viewbooks featuring picturesque views of campuses all across the country – and your daughter probably wants to attend all of them. Have regular discussions with her to figure out what she wants out of the next four years.

Don’t worry if she hasn’t decided on a major yet; there are lots of other – and arguably – more important ways to choose a school. Be open about college lifestyle: Does she want to live in an urban or rural environment? On or off campus? In an all-girls dorm? Unless she’s in a niche program, most schools will have many of the same majors, Her happiness more likely will depend on the lifestyle of the school being a good match for her personality.

There are some excellent online resources that can help you narrow the options by all these criteria. For example, CampusCompare allows you to instantly filter over 2,500 schools by preferences like size, geographic location and average GPA. The College Board has the College Matchmaker tool that helps you narrow the field just by answering a few quick questions. CollegeBound offers a virtual library of articles and blogs about various aspects of college life that are invaluable as you make your decision on where to spend the next four years.

3. Visit schools. Now that you’ve narrowed down a short list, think about which schools absolutely require an “in-person” visit and which you can visit “virtually.” It’s not news that staggering gas prices and economic meltdown have put travel at a premium these days, but one or two campus visits might still be worth the trip.

In a world where the Internet is part of our daily lives, you don’t need to leave the living room to get a campus tour. If there’s a college that you are unable to visit, check out the school’s Web site-many schools now post virtual tours of their campuses.

Your son may be more interested in the candid point of view presented by current students. CollegeClickTV or even YouTube has videos by camera-toting students on campus. CampusCompare couples authoritative content with student reviews and videos as well.

4. Talk to counselors and other parents. The college admissions process can be an overwhelming experience. It’s important to know that you’re not the only one stressing out over your student’s decision, so reach out to other parents who are in the same boat. Talking to parents in your own school community is a start, but even better, log on to a parent forum online. You are guaranteed to find many other parents out there who are struggling with the same questions and concerns.

Web sites like CollegeConfidential and GreatSchools Parent Community both have question-and-answer forums dedicated to parents. Log on to ask questions or post comments and answers to other’s questions. Someone out there is guaranteed to be sharing the same concerns.

Online resources are an excellent way of helping you and your student keep the college search on the right track. Finding the right school is hard work, but when your student gets accepted to a school that is a great fit for him, it will all be worth it in the end.