How do you afford all those college visits?

<p>We've been embroiled in this process for the past 8 years with three kids spaced out so that we're never really "done" - it's always time to gear up for the next one. In that time, all vacation funds have gone to pay for either college visits or getting kids back and forth to school. It's been money well spent - despite the stress and aggravation of never quite knowing where we're going and being unable to manage our time so that we can have an actual sit-down meal somewhere. (On one memorable journey, d2 and I went 36 hours subsisting on Diet Coke, hotel-room coffee, gummi worms, and crackers.)</p>

<p>With our current senior, we've visited 8 schools over 3 trips (2 schools have been seen twice, to permit interviews). She eliminated 2 schools from her list after visiting, and there are 2 schools on her final list that she hasn't seen yet.</p>

<p>I think the question of affordability is a smart one, and I hope that admissions departments are aware that it is a concern for many parents, not just those below a middle-class income. Our travel funds are not, um, inexhaustible. It's fine for schools to look for expressed interest, but sometimes even a very low-cost trip is just not possible.</p>

<p>We made college visits part of our vacation planning. Because they wanted to avoid the flying at Thanksgiving scene, our kids preferred colleges within a day's drive from our Mid-Atlantic home (D ended up 5+ hours away) so it was not tough to do it that way. I enjoy visiting campuses the way some people enjoy malls, so it was fairly pain-free.</p>

<p>Now h.s. senior son is going through the process and he has visited all but two of the six schools to which he applied. If those two are in the final mix he will visit them during his spring break (which fortunately is not the colleges' spring break time), and I am hoping he does an overnight at any school he is considering saying "yes" to. </p>

<p>Wow, in the future we will be able to plan vacations without college locations factored in! :)</p>

<p>As far as athletic recruiting goes, it's important to remember the difference between official (they pay) and unofficial (you pay) visits. </p>

<p>One school that recruited my S wanted him to come for an unofficial (summer) visit. Several time zones away -- I thought maybe on their dime in September. They dropped out. Another school, this one in an <em>adjacent</em> time zone, offered an unofficial summer visit, and we did fly out to check it out. Yes, it cost about $1000 for the trip -- airfare, rental car, hotel, meals. I might have done it for a few hundred less, but I wanted S to really see the area. That school eventually did make an offer -- and it would have included some athletic scholarship dollars -- but at that point he had already committed to his first choice.</p>

<p>I should note that he committed in JULY to his first choice school and had a verbal acceptance in AUGUST before his final year. For his sport, at that level, it happens <em>that</em> early.</p>

<ol>
<li><p>DD applied to 10 schools</p></li>
<li><p>Visited 8 prior to application</p></li>
<li><p>We visited about 15 schools starting when DD was a freshman. Not all were tour/info sessions, we may have been in the area for sports or vacation, just getting a feel for the school and spreading out the process (and the outlay of money). In the beginning I think it served as a weeding out or elimination process and helped all of us figure out what types of schools appealed to her. At that early stage we hadn't even asked her whether she wanted to be at a big school/small school, urban/rural, liberal arts/science technical. Without even talking about those things it became clear that she was looking for a broad education, not one directed to the sciences. It also allowed for return visits to schools she really liked. </p></li>
</ol>

<p>Starting the summer after sophomore year, we bunched visits by location and that was our vacation for the summer - not the most relaxing, but memorable. We tried to be frugal, stayed in some sketchy hotels and still laugh about the accommodations. </p>

<p>Two tips given by prior posters are important - Make sure you visit and find a safety that you love. Find one they would be really happy to attend and you can afford. I sometimes think we spend too much time focused on the dream schools. </p>

<p>While we visited a lot of schools, DD didn't do any overnights until after she was accepted. By then it was late in her senior year and missing school wasn't as critical as it would have been earlier. We also didn't want her to become too attached to her dream schools or the kids who went there because she knew they were long shots. </p>

<p>Good luck, pack lots of cheap & healthy snacks, and enjoy the experience. </p>

<p>PS - One thing all the tours did for me is make me realize how many truly outstanding kids there are in this country. We hear all this talk about how we are falling behind in education, but when I looked around the campuses I realized that our kids are amazingly bright, organized, ambitious, and ready to take on the world.</p>

<p>If you are interested in a certain area of the country, some colleges band together to make multiple visits easier. Last summer some Virginia private colleges offered up to free applications for visiting at least three of the schools: Council</a> of Independent Colleges in Virginia [CICV] </p>

<p>Working with the school calendar was also key. Starting at the summer after sophmore year, we took every in-service day available when we could or days like Presidents day weekend or Martin Luther King Day when colleges were open and our kids public hs was closed. Granted, this is very difficult when kids are involved in a time-sucking ec, but that's all the more reason to start a bit early.</p>

<p>kathiep,
Yes, we use the in-service days and holidays, too. DS's school only offers a VERY limited number of days for college visits, but we learned the summer after soph year that it is best to visit when schools are in session. DS likes to talk to profs and sit in on classes while we 'rents do the tour. Eat on campus -- it's cheaper than restaurants. We also make lunch the main meal of the day. Alternatively, we find a loaf of fresh bread and cheese and picnic.</p>

<p>DS has three days off in February (different weeks), so he might take an overnight or two and shack up with some friends at one or two schools on his list. </p>

<p>Depending on your kid, you might consider letting them take a trip or two alone. (Saves $$, too.) Since DS is looking at schools both near and far, we thought this would be a good way to see if he really could tolerate the hassles of travel. (He flew for one trip, took Amtrak for another.) He then used public transit on the ground. He has been a traveler all his life, though, and airports, delays, etc. don't bother him, so this might not work for every kid.</p>

<p>We combined it with summer vacation - drove 3200 miles and stopped to visit and stay with relatives and friends, went to amusement parks and national monuments. This broke things up a lot, and didn't cost as much, since we only had to pay for about a week's worth of hotels even though we were on the road for 3 weeks. D wound up at a school we didn't visit. Sigh! Amherst paid for her visit, but as an accepted diversity student - geographic white and poor. They made all the arrangments, picked her up at the airport and took her back. All I had to do was drop her off and pick her up here.</p>

<p>Good point Countingdown. Our son did three college visits by himself. One of them, Juniata, has a travel deal for accepted students if they travel by themselves and attend an accepted students event. Housing and food costs are free. Our son flew via Southwest airlines and the whole trip was less then $100 out of pocket. He also drove to Rochester (RIT) for an interesting weekend during the summer after junior year for an overnight where kids explored different majors and slept in the dorms. </p>

<p>I think it's key to explore each colleges website and look for unique offerings for visits. I just realized that I mispoke about son's out of state college visits. I went with him on two oos visits, Vermont and Virginia, but he went by himself to two others.</p>

<p>Hotel $ saving tip: Priceline name-your-own-price</p>

<p>DW and I stayed in Priceline hotels in 3 different cities while DS overnighted in dorms. Got pretty nice hotels for around $50 per night.</p>

<p>We visited 7 colleges, three in one three day roadtrip over Presidents Day weekend. Another three he visited on his own in a second three day roadtrip and the 7th was an afternoon visit to our state flagship U.</p>

<p>If the colleges had been scattered across the country I doubt that we would have visited them all prior to admissions/finaid decisions. In that case some prioritization would have been done and visits to the top 2 or three scheduled.</p>

<p>Actually choosing a college sight unseen is a big risk, IMO.</p>

<p>If you wait till acceptances before you do any visits, you only have a short window there to visit schools, not enough time to do many. Plus at that particular time there alre also great demands from kid's schoolwork, maybe extracurriculars too, and parents's work schedule may not cooperate either.</p>

<p>So if you only have a few acceptances you're evaluating by that time, fine, this can work. But if there are more than a few,typically you will choose one of the ones you actually do manage to visit (per first sentence above); selection by non-visitation.</p>

<p>So it's "better", and safer, to visit all schools pre-application. Whether it's enough "better" to justify the time and cost involved is a judgement we each have to make, individually.</p>

<p>No way, no how, could we have done without the visits. My son's situation, as a musician, is a little different, since our trips have required lessons, ensemble observations, etc. But we started with a list of ten, which as a result of visits was whittled WAAAAY down from that (I am not saying how many, so as not to jinx the process). But there is no way, at least in a specialized area, that we could have avoided this step.</p>

<p>Now, two visits were part of family vacations, and one part of a summer program, so we actually only did two college "trips", of which only one involved airlines. I don't know how people fly all over the country either, but I think it requires good research before you even step foot in the car/plane/train. You can eliminate a lot that way, and then the visits solidify things.</p>

<p>For kids in other areas, perhaps waiting until accepted student weekend makes sense. We just couldn't have done that. </p>

<p>Oh, and the trips alone are priceless. I wouldn't have given up that time with my son, one-on-one, for anything in the world.</p>

<p>Like others who have posted, we started college visits when D1 started high school. Anytime we were visiting somewhere, we checked out the interesting colleges nearby...even if it was only a drive by. The girls also went to some schools for debate competitions and summer programs. </p>

<p>It's helpful to visit before applying, but I don't think it's as important until after you've been accepted. If accepted to a school you can afford, you really should see it in person. Priceline and Lastseconddeals make travel a bit more affordable.</p>

<p>"Oh, and the trips alone are priceless. I wouldn't have given up that time with my son, one-on-one, for anything in the world."</p>

<p>I second that!!! I've had 2 trips alone with my daughter for college interviews that were absolutely wonderful this past month. I feel so lucky to get that time with her!</p>

<p>Another tip I forgot to mention, use your travel points for airlines and hotel chains.</p>

<p>Child #1 applied to 7 schools, one of them something of a throwaway (absolute safety, no application fee, rolling admission with answer in two weeks). She visited 10 schools in all, four of which she didn't apply to. I took a four-day, three-night trip with her to see six of the schools (one of which she rejected almost instantly, so we didn't spend a lot of time there). It helped that they were all within an hour or two of each other. We spent some gas, some tolls, about $350 on hotels, and some more on meals and entertainment. It was tons of fun, except we shouldn't have bothered with school #6, she was too burnt out by then. She visited one school with her mother during a business trip, flying on frequent-flyer miles and overnighting with a friend on campus, and another school with both of us and some friends as a day-trip in the middle of a family summer vacation. She went to two schools on her own -- one on the train, another driving with two friends -- and stayed with friends there both times.</p>

<p>Child #2 also applied to 7 schools and visited four of them, plus five others to which he didn't apply. Two were in California; he had seen both campuses in 9th grade on a family vacation, and didn't feel a need for a formal visit unless he got in and was seriously considering going there. He travelled to three schools on his own (w/ cheap airfares and train -- cost about $180) and stayed with friends for several days, then I met him at the last school and we drove to look at two other schools (one night at a nice hotel, one night staying with friends). Two schools were local; one he visited on his own (repeatedly), the other he visited with a family friend who is an engaged alum one Saturday afternoon. He visited one school on a long day trip driving with a friend and her father, and a last school during Christmas vacation staying with a cousin who was a student there while the rest of the family was with the parents about two miles away. (At that point, he knew he wasn't going to apply there, although it had been on his list previously, but he was interested in looking anyway.)</p>

<p>Obviously, it helped that we are on the East Coast, and most of the schools were within driving distance of us and each other.</p>

<p>No school was missed. The trips were on weekends, during spring break, and in one case during summer vacation.</p>

<p>Visiting was fun, but I think it's unnecessary in many ways. The one problem we ran into with Child #2 was that his final choice came down to a school he had visited vs. one he hadn't, and the lack of a visit was a real psychological barrier to choosing the latter. But he had lots of other, better reasons than that for the decision he made.</p>

<p>DD only visited 3 local schools within an hour of driving. What we planned to visit did not work out. She is visiting virtually.</p>

<p>We did almost no campus visits, both because we could not afford to do a lot and because dd was not terribly pleasant to travel with. She is absolutely not a morning person and visits required traveling or touring in the AM. These did not create memories to cherish.</p>

<p>She applied to 7 schools, one of which she had visited. She got into 6, none of which she visited. She then visited three of them, two without the family.</p>

<p>Campus visits before applications are a luxury for many people. Yes, fit matters, but there is a great deal one can discern from the web sites and from reports from people (including those who post on this site). Fit and financial aid were key criteria when it came to choose from the schools that had accepted dd.</p>

<p>Also, a good part of the decision about where to apply included a mix of factors which did not require a visit to generate information. In dd's case she was interested in attending college in a city or college town. There were only certain areas of the country where she wanted to go. Also, we were on the hunt for strong financial aid.</p>

<p>If you afford full-pay, you probably can also afford lots of college visits before applications. For my family, it was an unnecessary luxury.</p>

<p>jmho, trips to visit schools, are indeed costly in both time and money.</p>

<p>there were 2 separate paths as d was recruited by some schools for academics (national merit) and by some schools for athletics (revenue sport). she applied to 15 schools. of the 15, she visited 7. of those 7, she visited a nearby school several times. the multiple visits helped in making the decision to remove the school from her list.</p>

<p>d didn't truly start visiting schools until the summer prior to senior year because we just didn't know to start earlier (d is oldest child) and summers were generally filled with travel for sports competitions.</p>

<p>it was VERY difficult to schedule visits during senior year as d's plate was full with participation in multiple varsity sports and ap classes. during varsity sports seasons, there are usually twice weekly games and practices after school on non-games days. we will, hopefully, start the visit process earlier with the younger sibs.</p>

<p>only one trip was paid for by a school......they were recruiting her because of national merit standing. there were offers of visits to other nmf schools but there just wasn't time for her to do those.</p>

<p>no trip to visit any schools connected to athletic recruiting were paid for. they were all on our dime.</p>

<p>what worked best due to time constraints was the one day only trips involving no overnight stay.</p>

<p>if we had it to do over again, would probably want to spend less $$'s on competition travel and more $$'s on unofficial visits and camps. it's a catch 22. the athletes have to compete against good competition but it's also hard to fund both avenues.......school visits and competitions. sometimes tough choices have to be made about where the $$$'s go.</p>

<p>what did seem concerning to me was that there were sometimes invitations to apply for academic scholarships at some schools and if selected for a finalist interview, we would have had to foot the cost for the travel to the school for the interview and once again, time to make the trip would have been a factor. knowing that, d just didn't apply for those types of scholarships.</p>

<p>momfromme - i do agree. "campus visits before applications are a luxury for many people." with additional children in the family, time and money can be tight for many.</p>

<p>even making time to attend admissions presentations held in other cities can be tough to do.</p>

<p>Thanks for the many and varied responses. I especially like the idea of visiting different types of colleges. I don't see him at a tiny LAC since he thinks he wants to pursue something in the sciences, but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to visit, just to be sure. We have family all over Texas, so hitting schools in Houston (we've already been to Rice), Austin (UT, St. Ed's, Southwestern) and DFW (TCU, SMU, UNT, UT-D) will be easy. I'm really more concerned about places that interest him that are way out of state. Looks like a road trip in our future!</p>

<p>And just to clarify, he does play varsity ball at his high school, but he's an avg player on a not-great team, so I don't think he'll be recruited for his athletic prowess!</p>

<p>YDS, for sciences there are LAC's and then there are LAC's. Unfortunately, your son is highly unlikely to get admitted to Smith, but they have a brand new engineering program, are putting resources into building a new science center, and have a world-class genome expert on faculty. Of course, Smith is a larger LAC, around 2650 students. But the general question is <em>what</em> science and <em>what</em> LAC. An LAC won't be able to compete with a research university across the board but may very well have the program or programs that your son is most interested in. And there are benefits. The LAC's are less likely to use the "weeder class" approach to trim the number of majors. Moreover, and while I'll stipulate that Math isn't quite the same as the sciences per se, my D is very well known across her department in a way that's not going to happen at a school, like, say, UCLA, an institution with which I have moderate familiarity.</p>

<p>Researching colleges for "fit" is really more detail-oriented and time-consuming than one, as a parent, might hope.</p>

<p>Postscript: I'm a proponent of the "Away" to college to syndrome. It's been quite an education for D living in a completely different part of the country than what she's used to and I think there's a value to that, both for the student and ultimately the country.</p>