If your summer travel plans include a road trip with your teenager to visit college campuses across America, prepare to put a dent in your wallet. I should know — over the past year or so, I took my son (who graduated from high school this month) to visit 10 prospective out-of-state schools. Yes, 10.
In fact, this was my second time making the rounds to out-of-state colleges. My oldest child, a daughter, just wrapped up her third year of college, and she also attended a school far from home.
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Here’s what I’ve learned about college tours over the years that can help you save a lot of money during your own trip to find the right school.
1. Request Travel Reimbursements
If driving to your destination is feasible, taking your own car can reduce cash spent on airline tickets and rental cars. But if you need to take a flight or a train ride to visit the college(s) your kid wants to see, seek out travel reimbursements from those schools.
Start by looking online at the college’s website, which will often spell out their policies for travel reimbursements. For example, the University of Pittsburgh, which my son and I visited, offered up to $250 for travel reimbursement in 2018.
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If you don’t find any information online, don’t be shy about calling and asking the admissions staff at various schools whether they provide travel reimbursements. Be sure to find out the exact eligibility requirements, like turning in your receipts or traveling a distance of 200 miles or more.
2. Ask About On-Campus Housing Deals
Lodging can add up when you’re on the road visiting colleges. Instead of paying for hotels, inquire whether the institution you’re visiting offers any housing freebies or low-rate bargains.
Case in point: My son ended up choosing to study architecture at North Carolina State University. However, before he enrolls at NC State in late August, he has a mandatory freshman orientation in late June. That means we will fly together to Raleigh, N.C., and he’ll bunk down in an on-campus dorm, where parents aren’t allowed to stay overnight.
Though I haven’t decided where I’ll spend the night for sure, I might take advantage of the $45 a night on-campus housing deal the university offers for parents like myself, who are attending parent orientation while student orientation occurs.
3. Apply for Free “Fly-In” Visits
Finally, you could opt to forgo a summer trip to a distant college if that school offers a free “fly-in” visit in the fall or spring. A fly-in visit is an all-expense paid trip to a campus that is funded by the college or university. These visits aren’t just for athletes or academic superstars, either (though it never hurts to be a great student).
Numerous schools, ranging from small private colleges to large public institutions, offer fly-in visits. The website CollegeGreenlight.com keeps a list of fly-in programs.
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In 2015, my oldest daughter earned a fly-in visit to go see the University of Texas at Austin. If I had taken her to Texas, the trip would’ve cost me roughly $1,000 for two airline tickets, hotel, rental car and food. She was so wowed by UT that she ended up picking that school over a host of other great offers she received, including New York University, UNC Chapel Hill and my graduate school alma mater, the University of Southern California. Oh, and her choice clearly paid off: She graduates from UT’s McCombs School of Business this December — one semester early — with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
Can you tell that I’m a happy, proud mom?
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