8 Ways to Cut the Cost of College Visits

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 19th, 2013

A tough economy has parents and students trying to figure out how to afford the costs of college visits for their juniors and seniors in high school. Prices for plane tickets, hotels, gas and meals only go up while a family’s income remains level or drops. Some families spend as much as $3,000 to visit a number of colleges on their student’s list. As this becomes more and more difficult for most families, people are implementing strategies for cutting these costs. Here are some tips for managing economical college visits.

Stay Local

Larger cities often host more than one college or university. Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, has 13 colleges nearby, representing different genres of colleges, including the large state university, small liberal arts colleges, medium nonprofit colleges, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Church of God colleges and one men only college. For the price of a tank of gas, parents and students can drives to these various types of colleges to get a feel for the campus of the different schools. Students may not know what kind of college will appeal to them until they’ve visited a couple—a large state school, a medium college in a medium size city, and a small liberal arts college in a charming town. Use the information you gain in forming your final college list.

Narrow the College List

Try to visit the target and safety colleges on your list before you even consider visiting your reach schools. After all, you may not get accepted into the reach schools, but you are pretty sure about the target and safety colleges. By researching online as much as possible, you can select colleges that have the size, location, demographics and academic programs you want. Of course, this means you first have to figure out what you want in a college, and that can be tough, starting as you are from scratch. The more you think things through, the better match you can make with a college that suits you. Ask your guidance counselor to help you on this, as they are familiar with many types of colleges.

Combine Multiple College Visits/Vacation

Instead of visiting just one college on a trip, try to line up two to four colleges and visit all of them during a single trip. Schedule all of these visits ahead of time with the admissions counselors of each school. Many cities and towns host many colleges that are all within driving distance. Boston is a good example of this with over a hundred colleges nearby, of all different types and varieties. Another excellent idea is to combine a vacation with college visits; one parent can go with you to the colleges while the other parents takes the younger kids off to the beach (or park or zoo or shopping) for the day.

Join Up with Other Families

Ask friends and extended family members if they’re interested in the same colleges you are. If so, consider teaming up and sharing costs to visit schools nearby to each other. Two parents and their college age kids and friends can visit all the schools on their combined lists in a 100 mile range area. Gas, hotel and food costs can be shared this way, lessening the burden for each family.

Subsidize College Visits

Check with each college ahead of time to see if they will help pay costs for a visit. If the college is interested in having you as a student, they may chip in on travel expenses or eliminate the application fee. Once you’re accepted, a college may be even more willing to help you visit. Colleges seek a diverse student body, with students coming from many states and from overseas. For this reason, a college in Denver may help a student from Florida on visiting costs, as they don’t get many applications from Florida students. It always pays to ask.

Get Discounts

Be sure to use services such as Priceline to find discounts on hotels, especially if you’re traveling to multiple cities. Getting hotel rooms at $50 instead of $90 can really help the travel budget. Stay at hotels with breakfast buffets and snag some bagels and bread for lunch sandwiches while you’re at it. Try to download restaurant coupons.

Go Virtual

Many colleges now have virtual tours on their Web site. Before investing in a physical visit, do everything online you possibly can. Take the online tour, check out class offerings and read up on the class syllabus. Use phone and email to contact admission and financial people, as well as make appointments with college alumni in your area if you can’t get to the school for a visit. Use the college’s Web site for the information you need to collect for each college. You’d be surprised at how much data you can discover by close reading. Check the college’s social media presence and faculty and student blogs. Finding out as much as possible without a visit can save you a great deal of money.

Only Visit Once Accepted

Most students visit a college twice, once while they’re forming their college list and again once they’ve been accepted. Cutting out the earlier visit does come with a cost—many colleges look at a student’s interest in the college when making admissions decisions, and visiting the college shows that interest. If you know that the college takes student interest into consideration on admission decisions, and you can’t visit before applying, then make sure the college is aware of your interest by contacting them and asking to interview with a college representative or alumni. Attend college fairs to meet admission counselors in person. Do whatever you can to put a face and personality to your application.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.