You're a high school senior from upstate New York, dreaming of study sessions under palm trees at a college in sunny Hawaii. But before you even consider the price of tuition, the cost of an on-campus visit alone can be problematic. (And we all know how important campus visits are . . . right? What, not convinced? Read this. I’ll wait.)
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the cost of transportation, accommodations, and other expenses associated with visiting colleges both near and far. And if you still can't afford to go, there are some excellent resources to help you make the right college decision without setting foot on campus.
1. Apply for vouchers or fly-in programs
Some schools help finance on-campus visits for students with excellent academic records, who have demonstrated financial need, are from underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds, or are first-generation immigrants. These programs may cover all or part of students’ transportation, accommodations, and even meals.
“If your favorite college option doesn't offer this program, then ask what help they can give,” says James Douglas, of the website CampusCompare.com. “Many colleges are able to waive application fees or give you discounted prices for local hotels and meals on campus. In this instance, the best thing to do is to call the admissions department and see what they recommend.”
3. Look for student travel discounts
Student travel websites, such as Student Universe and STA Travel, offer discounted airline tickets and hotel rooms. Some cities with a large number of universities may have specific websites, such as StudyBoston.com, which offer information about the area and discounts for prospective students. In addition, Amtrak offers a buy-one-get-one-half-off deal for high schoolers traveling with a parent or guardian.
4. Visit local schools
Identify schools in your area that are similar to schools you are applying to elsewhere and visit them instead. Exploring a variety of nearby campuses, even ones you’re not necessarily interested in, can still help give you an idea of what you like and don’t like in a college.
5. Consider your experience so far
Brent Benner, Director of Enrollment Management at the University of Tampa, points out that you can forecast life at a particular college through your experience as an applicant. Do admission officers respond quickly? Did you receive a financial aid package right away? Is the school’s website up-to-date and easy to navigate? These things may seem minor, but they offer helpful clues.
“How universities operate during the admissions process, even if you can’t visit, gives you a pretty good picture of what it will be like to be a student there,” says Benner.
6. Be strategic
Plan your visits wisely. If any colleges on your list are in proximity, try to group the visits into one trip. It may even be possible to reduce travel costs by combining visits to multiple campuses in one day, especially if the schools offer half-day (or shorter) tours.
“Students should be strategic and do their research, because they can often check out top programs in the country in one place,” says Benner.
7. Partner up
Ask any friends or family members who are applying to college which schools they are visiting. Splitting the price of accommodation or gas with someone you know can make visits more affordable, not to mention more fun! Along the same lines, think about whether you can tag a campus visit onto a family vacation or other unrelated trip to save on costs.
8. Take a virtual visit
Many colleges offer in-depth virtual tours featuring videos about nearly every aspect of student life, from interviews with professors to tours of dorm rooms to interactive maps.
“These are a fantastic way for you to get a feel for each college you are considering without having to spend any money at all,” says Douglas. “Many international students will make their decision on where to study purely based on these virtual experiences.”
Nothing beats visiting schools in person, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t. Either way, using the tips above will help you make the most informed decision possible.