For families with a teen planning to attend a four-year college, visiting prospective campuses is a rite of passage. And so is worrying about money — starting with the visit itself.
College visits can cost a pretty penny for lodging and food, but it’s all relative when you consider college costs themselves: according to the College Board, an average of $34,740 a year for tuition and fees at private colleges or $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities (not to mention room and board).
Given that it’s one of the biggest investments your family will make, visiting schools is a key way to help you make the wisest decision. With spring break — just around the corner for most high schools — a popular time for those road trips, here are five tips to help you get the most from those college visits.
for a family. But they also provide an invaluable inside look at institutions.
1. Have a focus. Assess your child’s interests as well as strengths and weaknesses. Have a frank talk with your teen. Would he or she prefer a large research university or a small liberal arts college? Is location important? What about extracurricular activities? How much can your family afford? Narrow down the top values important to your family and create a list of the schools you want to visit based on those things.
2. Plan ahead. Once you’ve targeted the schools you’re interested in, you must plan in advance to register for the tours. Register online for tours and informational sessions. Search for the admissions representative for your region and reach out directly to that person. Try to schedule a time to meet with the regional admissions representative to arrange a meeting before or after the sessions to make that connection. Colleges keep track of students who visit and it helps show demonstrated interest when the schools review applications.
3. Budget the travel. Consider grouping the college visits and staying outside major cities, where lodging and food are more expensive. Say, for example, you’re visiting Barnard College in Manhattan. Consider a visit to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, just north of New York City and plan a budget motel stay there. Grouping college visits geographically helps cut down on cost and time.
4. Combine business with pleasure. Make the college visits a mini family vacation and explore the surrounding areas to find out more about the local communities. If a younger sibling is along for the ride, make sure to include his or her interest with a visit to a special place outside of the college.
5. Don’t over-commit. While families may be in a hurry to see as many colleges as possible during these road trips to maximize efficiency, it’s important to set aside some extra time to observe and explore the campus. Some colleges will offer cafeteria vouchers for visiting families so that they may explore on their own after the formal presentations. Not only does it help with assessing the college, meals courtesy of the school also help with budgeting.