Helping your student choose the right college is one of the most important decisions you will make during the college search process. It is a decision that requires significant research and, in many cases, information that can only be gathered by visiting campus. Experiencing residence life, meeting with professors, or sitting in on a class could likely provide invaluable information that could influence your decision, which is why campus visits are essential.
With spring break right around the corner, many families are making preparations for college visits. But how do families on a tight budget minimize the cost and maximize the experience of their college visits? Let’s take a look at some strategies that can be easily implemented as you schedule your campus visits.
How Campus Visits Factor into a College Budget Plan
Although campus tours are typically free, there are many additional costs that may accompany your college visit. Unless you live in close proximity to the college, you will need to factor the cost of transportation, lodging, meals, and time into your college budget plan.
There is a significant possibility that the right college for your student is not going to be in your backyard. It may be on the other side of the state or even the county. While some may make a road trip out of it their college visits, others may find it necessary to travel by the quickest means possible. Regardless of whether you choose plane, train, or automobile, there will be some cost associated with getting to your destination.
Chances are that you and your student will visit colleges that are several hours away, often requiring you to spend the night somewhere close by. While there is typically no shortage of lodging options in college towns, you should research ahead of time and factor a few nights into your budget. Keep in mind that once you have your schools narrowed down, you may also want to schedule follow up visits and “overnights” for your student to help them determine if they could truly see themselves at a particular university.
Many colleges provide lunch for prospective students and their families. However, no two schools are the same. Some may cover the cost for the student alone, while others may cover the cost of the entire family. Regardless, if you are visiting from out of town or for multiple days, you will have meals where you are on your own.
College visits require time and commitment. While your student will have a sufficient amount of breaks and days off of school, you will likely have to take off work to make the trip.
How to Cut Down on the Cost of Campus Visits
All of these factors can add up and put a dent in your wallet. However, what many families don’t know is that there are often ways of covering these costs through reimbursement programs and other discounts. Implementing some of these tips could save you thousands over the course of your college selection process.
1. Narrow Down Your Choices
With the amount of mail you have probably received from schools advertising their visit days, choosing which colleges to visit can be overwhelming. However, researching schools ahead of time can help you narrow down which ones might be a good fit for your student. Many colleges offer virtual campus tours on their website and have significant amounts of information about their majors, campus life, and other programs. Admissions representatives may also be coming to your child’s high school or local college fairs, which is a great way to learn more. Doing thorough research and creating a purposeful plan can save you precious time and eliminate unnecessary costs.
2. Start Locally
It may seem obvious, but visiting a nearby college can be one of the cheapest visit options. However, starting your college search close to home offers additional benefits as well. For example, you can begin the college search process sooner. Rather than waiting until the end of your student’s junior or senior year, you can expose them to college campuses earlier without having to go too far out of your way. In addition, these visits are low risk and will allow you to experience a typical college visit structure, learn what questions to ask, and help you determine if there are additional meetings or experiences your student may benefit from when visiting campuses farther away.
3. Visit in Groups
If your child has the opportunity to go on a college tour with their high school or church youth group, encourage them to go. These groups may utilize breaks during the year to expose your student to a number of different colleges and universities that you may not be able to take them to. The more exposure students get to different campuses, the easier it will be for them to identify what schools might fit them best. Additionally, some colleges offer significant discounts for groups of students that visit together. If you are able to split the costs with other family friends, it could leave room in the budget for follow up visits.
4. Explore Subsidized Campus Visits
Colleges and universities want you to visit their campus, so often times they have programs in place to help you get there and to accommodate you during your visit. The lengths schools are willing to go differ from institution to institution, so it is important to ask when you schedule your visit. You may find that most colleges are willing to cover the cost of meals, lodging, or even reimburse you for travel expenses.
5. Look for Discounts
Many travel and lodging companies also offer discounts to students and families visiting colleges in the area. Be sure to communicate with the schools you are visiting to see who they partner with in the community and what discounts they recommend looking into. If your options are limited, finding a cheap Airbnb or VRBO could save you money for lodging and meals too.
6. Travel Efficiently
Be as strategic as possible when planning your trips. Every student is different, so figure out what strategy is best for your family. Some families may benefit from visiting multiple colleges within a single trip, though you should refrain from visiting more than two colleges per day. Other families may want to prolong their visits at each college to fit in as many meetings and experiences as possible. Determining the quantity and quality of visits you want to achieve ahead of time will help alleviate stress and save on costs.
Have any of the schools you’ve visited offered to cover your experiences? Lets us hear know about it in the comments section below!