12 Nov

Making College Visits in a Tough Economy

As attached as your child is to the idea of attending UCLA, UT Austin or NYU, reality may be that a college on your student’s list may not actually be the right fit. Most schools look awfully good on paper, but in order to make the right personal decision, your student needs to get exposed to what everyday life at his or her chosen schools is like.

If you’re thinking there is no way to make all these visits in the current economy–think again. Here are some ideas to help your child get the exposure he or she needs without dipping in to your holiday gift fund.

Investigate the Local Scene

One of the best ways to save while making college visits is to stay close to home. Last month I suggested visiting nearby schools similar to those to which your student has applied. This is a tip I give to clients all the time, because it really works.

Spend a little time researching schools within a reasonable driving distance from home. Find colleges that reflect the same size, student-faculty ratio, public/private setting, and living environment offered by your child’s top choice schools. Then make a couple of quick trips to compare/contrast.

This strategy can be extremely telling–your child can get a feel for the environment, teaching style, and day-to-day expectations of a given type of school without your having to come up with the cash for cross-country airfare at this point.

Combine Trips

If you’re already planning to make a trip to one of your child’s long distance college choices, why not visit surrounding colleges as well? You can cut costs by renting a car instead of plane-hopping to each school. A road trip could be a great time to get to know more about the schools and surrounding areas (and get some one-on-one time with your child) without over-spending.

Another option is to visit schools near your holiday destinations or vacations. Heading out to your sister’s house for Thanksgiving? Tour the local university campuses, converse with some of the students, and if you arrive early enough, see if your student can sit in on a class. Just having your child make a more final choice on an urban, suburban or rural setting or small, medium or large student body can really help in whittling down the college list.

Price Watch

If you’re committed to making the trip–by train, bus, plane, or car–no matter what, don’t simply type in your dates on Expedia and click BUY. Using a pricing strategy can go a long way.

  • Sign Up for Rewards. Airlines–and even some bus or train travel–usually offer frequent flier deals or special alerts to those who have signed up. If you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for the program of your favorite low-price airlines so you will get credit for your trips and emails about low-price deals.
  • Wait Until Weekdays. Weekday travel is usually much cheaper than weekend travel, so consider booking your trip during the week. A bonus of visiting schools Monday-Friday? You get to see what busy campus life is really like, and have the opportunity to meet with financial aid officers, faculty, students and even sit in a class or two.
  • Be Flexible. Most airlines have search options that allow you to search by price, or to see the rates of flights for a week or two around your first-pick dates. Be sure you review flight prices for lots of different travel options, like flying earlier or later in the month, staying an extra day or leaving early, or changing your layover destination or time. All of these things can cut a good chunk off of your total travel bill.

All the best,
Deborah Fox


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