Visiting the colleges you are considering is an important part of the college search process. The college may have everything you are looking for, but you never know if it is a good fit until you walk on the campus and experience the personality of the college. However, visiting colleges costs money and some families do not have the funds to spend. Before saying no to the college visit, learn about the ways you can save money when visiting colleges.
1. Fly-in programs
Some colleges offer fly-in programs that will cover the cost of the visit to the college. Students typically have to apply for the programs and the competition is usually competitive. Some of the programs are open to all students, while others are only open to students that are underrepresented, first generation college students, and/or students from lower income families. Check out the list of colleges that are accepting applications for their fly-in programs here.
2. Travel reimbursements
Some colleges are now offering reimbursements to students who visit their campuses. Some colleges will provide a reimbursement for airfare, while others will also cover mileage or fuel costs. Some colleges will reimburse students after the visits, while other colleges will only reimburse if you enroll at the college. The rules of the reimbursements are different at each school, so students should check with the admission offices for full details.
3. Travel discounts
Travel costs can add up if students are traveling far distances to visit colleges. Amtrak offers a buy-one-get-one 50% off for college visits. Student Universe and STA Travel also offer discounted airfare for students.
4. Spend the night on campus
Many colleges offer students the opportunity so spend the night on campus in one of the residence halls. Typically staying in the residence hall is free for prospective students. You might have to sleep on the floor of an actual students dorm room, but it’s free and you get to experience student live on campus.
5. Hotel discounts
Many colleges have worked with hotels in their areas to offer discounts to prospective students and their families. The information can usually be found on the institution website. However, if you can’t find it, check with the admissions office for details. Some colleges also have hotel accommodations on their campuses, such as UCLA and the University of Utah.
6. Free or discounted cafeteria food
No matter what, if you are planning on living on a college campus, sample the food. Many colleges will offer free or discounted meals in the dining halls on campus if students make an official campus visit.
7. Visit other area colleges
If you are considering colleges in the same area, try to visit all of the colleges during one trip. To ensure the timing works, check with the admission office to make sure the dates that are being consider will work for the institution. However, I caution students to limit the amount of schools they visit in one day to two. A real college visit will probably take at least three hours because you will want to attend an information session, tour campus, sample the food, and possibly meet with specific people on campus.
8. Visit with your high school
Some high schools will plan college visit trips for their students at little or no cost for the student. If your high school is visiting a college you are interested in, sign up for the visit. Group visits to college campuses are typically well organized, and at the very least, you will get an information session and a campus tour.
In addition to getting a feel for the college campuses, some colleges offer incentives for prospective students to visit:
- Application fee waiver. Many colleges will waive the fee to apply for admission if you visit campus. The visits typically will have to happen before you apply for admission (i.e. they will not reimburse you if you have already paid the application fee).
- Swag. Some colleges will give students free items when they visit campus. It may be as small as a pen, but others may give you a t-shirt or pennant. It is not the reason to visit a college, but having something with the college name on it makes for a pretty nice souvenir of your visit.
- Bookstore discounts. You might get a coupon to buy a logo item at the college bookstore. If you’re really interested in the college and you want a shirt or sweatshirt, the discount can really help with the cost.
- Visit scholarship. There is a growing list of colleges and universities that offer a scholarship to students who visit campus. The visit scholarship is usually small, but it is a nice discount for families. Some of these scholarships are a one-time scholarship, while others are renewable all four years.
The college visit is a great opportunity to get a real feel for the campus. While visiting all of the colleges you are considering can be expensive, take advantage of some of the above suggestions. Always check with the admission offices of the colleges you are considering to learn about the discounts of services they can provide for your visit. You may be able to find all of the information on the college website. But, if not, check with your admission counselor or the visit coordinator at the college.