11 Secrets to Slash the Price of College Visits

Enjoy your college visits even more by cutting costs for those out-of-town trips.
 Apply these 11 strategies and save!

No one debates the importance of college visits. Only so much can be gained by scanning websites and glossy college brochures. There’s nothing like a visit to a real, live campus.

More than half of schools polled in 2014 by the National Association for College Admission Counseling said that a student’s “demonstrated interest” was an important factor in the admissions decision. A visit to a campus, followed by an application submission, signals a school you’re quite serious about them.

Yet, with the average cost of applying to a group of colleges — application fees, exams, and campus visits included — in the range of $3,500, the campus tour is an easy target for budget cutters.

Here are the 11 most effective ways to slash the price tag traditionally associated with college visits:

  1. Start by staying home. Explore online first. Take virtual campus tours available on many college websites or go to CampusTours or YouVisit to “stroll around” more than 130 schools.Identify what majors interest you, consider each school’s size, location, and proximity to major cities, and transportation. Ranked the schools on your list and prepare to plan your first trip!
    Tip: Have your child contact a recent grad from their high school who currently attends a particular college. Even a quick phone conversation can give an insider’s view of the school.
  2. Trim your travel list. The #1 easiest way to save on college visits is to tour the fewest schools possible.Once you’ve ranked the schools, visit only the ones at the top of your list (although you can tack on schools lower in your rankings if they’re geographically convenient to a more promising contender).Trim your travel list to just your top choices. When you finally hit the road, pack as many schools into a trip as possible, rather than visiting just one or two at a time. Plus, if there are multiple colleges in the same geographical area, plan to visit them on the same trip. To ensure the timing works, check with each admission office to make sure the dates you’re considering will work for the institution.
    Tip: For planning purposes, two schools is the most you’ll want to visit in a day.
  3. Tack trips onto a family vacation. Many college towns are located in or around tourist destinations. If you take an August vacation, plan one that’s near a couple of the schools on your list and set aside a day or two for school visits.
    Tip: This strategy works best for northern parts of the U.S. If a student is looking at southern schools, visit them in the winter months (the same season they’d be there as a student). Arizona isn’t nearly as fun in August as it is in February when students are in the midst of their school year!
  4. Buddy up. If your student has friends who are considering some of the same colleges, take a road trip together to visit the colleges or trade off. Let one parent take the kids to see several schools, and then the another parent can take them to others. In this way, parents can share the cost of gas and hotels, plus minimize the time commitment.
  5. Find fly-in programs. Some colleges offer fly-in programs for underserved students. Students must apply for these programs and it can be competitive. However, if students are selected, they receive an all-expenses paid trip to the campus. Colorado College, Columbia College, and Emory University are just a few of the institutions that offer fly-in programs. Check out the large list of 2016 College Fly-In Programs here.
  6. Request college visit reimbursement. Some colleges offer travel reimbursements to students who visit their campuses. The compensation rules are different at each school, so check with the admissions office for full details. Some cover only flight and hotel expenses, while others also cover driving expenses. Some will reimburse the full cost, while others have a maximum reimbursement amount. Lastly, some will reimburse after the visit, while some will reimburse only after the student enrolls at the college. All visit reimbursement programs will expect students to save receipts and submit them to the college for the repayment consideration.
  7. Visit with a high school tour. Some high schools take groups of their students to visit college campuses at little or no cost to the student. Group visits to college campuses are typically well organized. If the high school is travelling to a college on the student’s short list, this is a great way to save on a visit.
  8. Travel discounts. Travel costs can add up if students have to travel far distances to visit colleges. Amtrak offers a buy-one-get-one 50% off for college visits. Additionally, Student Universe and STA Travel offer discounted airfare for students.
  9. Spend the night in the dorm. Many colleges offer students the opportunity to spend the night in the residence halls during their stay. Typically, staying in dorms is free for prospective students. Some colleges make it easy to find information about overnight visits. If students aren’t seeing information about overnight visits, they should contact the admissions office for help.
    Tip: Super-competitive schools with really low admit rates don’t have this option, but schools that have an admit rate of 33 percent or more do tend to offer this.
  10. Hotel discounts. Numerous colleges partner with hotels in their areas to offer discounts for prospective students and their families. The information can usually be found through the admissions office. Some colleges, such as UCLA and the University of Utah, have hotel accommodations on their campuses.
  11. Free or discounted cafeteria food. Something students should check out when visiting colleges is the food in the dining halls. Check with the admissions office to get free or discounted meal passes for the dining hall while they visit campus.

Mike McKinnon (mike@cofp.net) is the founder and CEO of College Planners of America. He knows that navigating the path to college alone can be hard. Doing it affordably is even harder. Click here if you might like Mike’s help as you or your student head toward college and beyond.