How to Make the Most of Your College Visits Even If You're on a Budget
As we draw closer to the opening of the new college admissions season on Aug. 1, many families are beginning to prepare for a big college preparation milestone this fall: visiting prospective colleges.
College visits are a rite of passage, and a necessary task in order to determine whether or not a college is a good fit. Nothing is a better gut-check than actually stepping foot on a campus. A college may seem great (or maybe not so great) in photos, but actually visiting is the best way to make an informed decision – and can often yield unexpected opinions on a school.
College visits, while necessary, can also get expensive. At IvyWise, we’ve previously found that families can spend upwards of $3,500 applying to college, including application fees, test prep, and the cost of college visits. From travel and transportation, to dining and colleting souvenirs, the costs of a college visit can add up fast, and it’s an expense some families don’t always plan for. When it comes to campus visits, it is possible to get the full experience without breaking the bank.
Here are some areas where families can save on college visit costs, and some aspects that might be worth spending a little extra money on.
The most important part of the college visit is actually getting there! Save some money on travel costs by visiting more than one college in the same trip, visiting colleges while on vacation, or team up with another family planning to visit the same colleges and carpool together. This is where many families will have the most flexibility because there are many ways to consolidate visits that will maximize your time and budget.
While it’s easy to cut some costs by combining trips and visiting more than one college in the same area, don’t be afraid to splurge a little on transportation. Now, we’re not talking about renting a private jet, but don’t shy away from flying instead of driving if it’ll leave you more time to better explore a campus and squeeze in additional visits to nearby schools. Especially for a top-choice school, it’s important to get that visit in and maybe splurge on the plane ticket, even if it means cutting costs in other areas, like lodging, dining, and entertainment.
This is another college visit area where many families have flexibility. When planning your visit, see if the school has a list of preferred hotels that might be able to offer a discounted rate. Also, if possible, arrange to stay with family or friends who might live in the area. Many colleges also offer overnight dorm stays for students, which might save families money on a hotel, with one less person to accommodate. At any rate, students should always try to spend at least one night in the dorm with either a host through the school’s overnight visiting program if they have one, or with a current student the visiting student might already know. On the other hand, if you were able to save some money on travel and transportation, it might be beneficial to splurge a little on a hotel or lodging that’s close to campus or centrally located in the town or city, so that it’s easier to explore the surrounding area.
Dining and Entertainment
This is another area where you can save some money, but also leave room for splurging if possible. We always advise students to eat a meal in the campus dining hall in order to get the full freshman experience, and this is where families can save a buck or two eating on campus rather than a local restaurant. However, it’s ok to splurge a little on dining and entertainment in town. After all, students won’t be on campus all the time. It’s important for students and parents to explore the surrounding area to get to know the city or town. Eat at a local restaurant, visit some museums or other attractions, and even take a guided city tour if it’s available.
When planning college visits, it’s important to sit down and discuss your priorities, then establish a budget. Keeping parent and student priorities in mind, while also compromising on other aspects, will ensure that students are getting the full experience without breaking mom and dad’s budget!