Use These 6 Tips to Visit Colleges Without Going Broke

There are 3,026 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Narrowing down that list to the one school you attend can be daunting.

Everything from weather and distance from home to academics and football culture can affect your decision. The best way to decide on a school is to do college visits, but if you cast too wide of a net, you can go broke touring schools.

With airfare, car rentals, and hotel accommodations, visiting colleges can be expensive — but it’s necessary to see the campus to find a good fit. With these six college visit tips, you can tour schools and find the right choice for you without blowing your budget.

1. Narrow down the list

If you have a list of schools you’re considering, slim it down by thinking about what is most important to you.

Consider the difference between public and private schools, especially since private schools can be more expensive.  Some other factors that may impact your decision may be climate, location, size, athletics, Greek life, and major.

If you love the beach and the tropics, checking out Syracuse University, which often gets feet of snow, is likely a bad idea, no matter how good the school is. Similarly, if you want to live in a bustling city, going to Elizabethtown College in the middle of the country is not smart, either.

Create a profile of what your must-haves are and which areas you are flexible about. That approach can whittle down your list to five to ten schools.

2. Check out virtual tours first

More and more schools are offering virtual tours of their campuses and classrooms. eCampus Tours is a site that provides online tours of over 1,300 schools. While it’s not the same as seeing the campus in person, going through the virtual tour can help you get a feel for the school and its culture.

For example, if you plan on majoring in science and technology and the online tour features an outdated lab, you can write that school off your list.

3. Talk to local alumni

Before booking trips to your smaller list of schools, talk with local alumni, ideally those who graduated with your major. The colleges and universities on your list can often put you in contact with alumni for phone conversations or in-person meetings. You can also look for people who graduated from that school on LinkedIn or Facebook.

The colleges and universities on your list can often put you in contact with alumni for phone conversations or in-person meetings. You can also look for people who graduated from that school on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Having an honest conversation about their experiences at school, both personally and academically, can help your decision. Alumni might tell you they had a great experience, had an easy job search after school, and took on minimal debt. Others may tell you they felt ill prepared for employment and had thousands in student loans.

Their experience can give you unique insight that can help inform your decision. Aim to talk to a few different alumni from each school before touring to give you a well-rounded perspective.

4. Work around your vacation plans

Have a family vacation coming up? Try to combine your college visits with the trip.

If you’re flying to Florida and are considering the University of Central Florida, you can spend a day at the school in the middle of your vacation. That will save you money, since you won’t have to go on a separate flight and book another hotel for more college visits.

If your vacation includes a road trip, make a small detour here and there to include schools on your list. While it may add a day or two to your trip, it will save you money in the long run since you’re already on the road.

5. Plan your flights and accommodations carefully

When you book your flight can greatly affect your costs. If you book mid-week and get an early flight, you can save hundreds on airfare. When possible, avoid flying on the weekends, as those flights tend to be much more expensive.

Also, check out pricing on one-way visits rather than round-trip. You may be able to save money by flying one airline to your destination and using another carrier on the way home.

When it comes to accommodations, be creative. Many schools will let you stay on campus overnight for free as part of your college tour. If that’s not an option, or if you have family with you, check out discount hotel sites like Hotels.com. You may be able to snag a cheap room on Airbnb as well.

6. See some schools on your own

If you’re comfortable traveling alone, try visiting schools without your family. While they can provide helpful advice, bringing relatives along can greatly add to the cost of college visits.

Seeing the school on your own can also help you evaluate the school objectively, without someone else’s opinion affecting your own.

Controlling the cost of college visits

Visiting schools can cost thousands if you’re not careful. Plan ahead to tour only colleges you are seriously considering attending.

Narrow your list so you can focus on the schools that make the most sense for you. With some homework and research, you can cut down on costs while choosing the perfect school.

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