A Strategic and Cost Effective Way to Plan College Visits

With winter and spring vacations rapidly approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to share some thoughts about college visits. The entire college application process can get very expensive, so being strategic in how families spend and save money is important. One way that families can avoid spending unnecessarily is through strategically planning college visits.

First it is important to recognize that there are different purposes for college visits. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are typically visiting colleges to get a sense of the type of college they want to attend. Whereas, many seniors may be visiting colleges they have been accepted to and are finalizing where they will attend.

This post will focus on college visits for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors who are exploring types of colleges. Here are some tips:

1) Be sure to visit schools when they are in session.

I know the temptation is to visit universities during vacations because students and families don't need to miss work and school. However, visiting a college when it is closed is not going to give an accurate sense of what that school is really like. Half of the experience of a college visit is getting a sense of the energy on a campus. If all of the students have gone home for break, a visiting student will never really understand what that campus is actually like.

This is problematic for students and families who want to visit schools that are farther away, or even out of state. I would argue that it is not the best use of funds to plan a long and expensive college tour if you will be visiting schools when they are closed.

So, how do students and families get a sense of colleges if they shouldn't visit them when they aren't in session? Please read on to tip #2 to find out.

2) Take advantage of the schools that are in our surrounding area.

Even if a student wants to go away to college, they can still use our local universities as a model for other similar schools. For example, I recently toured CSU Monterey Bay and San Jose State University in one day. Although many students in Santa Cruz won't consider these schools, because they are too close to home, they are both perfect examples of the difference between a small and very large public university. You can instantly feel the difference between the campuses with CSUMB feeling very quiet and intimate and SJSU feeling like a city in and of itself.

A quick visit to Santa Clara University will give students a sense of a small, private school. Each of these schools are representative of other schools of their type and size. If a student hated the quiet at CSUMB, they now know they can rule out small universities and focus their search on medium to large size schools.

With so many different types of universities close to us it is easy to get a sense of the type of school a student is interested in one or two days.

3) Save visits to out of state, or long distance schools, until a student has narrowed down their apply list, or been accepted.

It is incredibly frustrating to spend a lot of time and money visiting schools that students are instantly going to check off their list. If you are going to take the time and effort to plan a more extensive college trip, be sure that your student is actually interested in attending the schools you visit. Families and students will feel much better about an extended college trip if they return home excited about future schools, as opposed to discouraged that they didn't see any they liked.

4) Kill two birds with one stone.

When planning a trip to visit colleges that are farther away, try and visit as many similar schools in the area as possible. For example, Oregon hosts a Private College Week every summer. Eleven private schools in Oregon coordinate their Open Houses during the same week and families can sign up in advance. Students and families can research these 11 schools in advance and visit as many as 7-8 colleges in just a few days. Doing research ahead of time and planning tours/visits in advance will make a trip much more fruitful.

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