How to Set a Budget for College Tours
Deciding which college to attend is a big task. Beyond the basics — location, major and annual school-related costs — knowing which school best suits your needs can be challenging. Going to the schools can help you narrow your choices and gain a sense of belonging from specific campuses.
But paying for visits or tours can be expensive if the schools you’re applying to are scattered across the country or several states. If you’re gearing up for college tours, here are three tips to give you a solid idea about what costs to expect to make your journey (or journeys) more affordable.
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No. 1: List all the costs
The first step to creating any budget is understanding all the associated costs. For college tours, that includes:
- Transportation (gas, airfare, bus fare and cab or ride-share costs)
- Lodging (hotels, Airbnbs or on-campus housing)
- Parking costs
- College merchandise or swag
- On-campus events
Once you’ve nailed down the larger costs (transportation and lodging), you can do more campus-specific research to set your overall budget for each school. Ideally, you’d want to make sure you or your parents have that money set aside beforehand, rather than relying on options like credit cards that can balloon costs via interest.
“If you’re determined to visit your prospective colleges beforehand, try narrowing down your list as much as possible, and set a reasonable budget for your college visits,” says Michael Kitchen, LendingTree student loan expert.
No. 2: Aim to maximize your tour experiences
As you’re forming your budget, remember to get the most out of the experiences for the money you’re spending. This way, you can get a better feel for each school you visit without going overboard. The best thing you can do to save money on college tour trips is to look for free opportunities.
Another thing to consider is any existing rewards you might have access to, such as earned miles or hotel perks from credit cards, as well as the schools themselves.
“Some schools will let you stay overnight in their dorms,” Kitchen says. “Likewise, the cost of air travel can vary greatly depending on when you fly, so choose the timing of your visits carefully.”
No. 3: Understand that tours aren’t the end-all, be-all
While visiting every school on your application list can be tempting, it isn’t always a necessary part of the process. You shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t swing a full-scale tour of colleges — that’s especially true if those are located across the country.
Typically, there are resources from the colleges themselves or other sites that can provide insight into what it’s like to go to specific campuses. For example, sites like YouVisit, CampusTours or Princeton Review offer virtual tours for many schools that can prove helpful here. Your local library may also offer valuable resources or guidance, especially for those on a tight budget.
“Spend some time ‘cyber-strolling’ around the school’s neighborhood on Google Earth,” Kitchen says. “This could save you a lot of time and money while still giving you a sense of what life at that school is like.”
If nothing else, this will help you get a sense of campus culture. It could lead you to cross schools off your list and narrow the number of campuses you’d want to tour in person.