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Nine tricks for visiting colleges on a budget

From Katherine Cohen, PhD., CEO and founder of IvyWise and ApplyWise Campus visits are an important part of the college application process, as they allow your college-bound teen to visualize attending the schools on their wish list. A visit also shows the college admissions committee that your child is seriously interested in attending their school. However, college visits can become costly. He

From Katherine Cohen, PhD., CEO and founder of IvyWise and ApplyWise Campus visits are an important part of the college application process, as they allow your college-bound teen to visualize attending the schools on their wish list. A visit also shows the college admissions committee that your child is seriously interested in attending their school. However, college visits can become costly. Here are my cost-saving tips for families looking to visit colleges on a budget: Only visit colleges that are a “good fit” for your child academically, socially and financially. With the help of a high school guidance counselor, your child should research colleges and come up with a preliminary list of “good-fit” schools that are reach, target and safety schools. Don’t waste time and money visiting schools willy-nilly or visiting schools that are too far out of your child’s reach. If you have the opportunity, you’ll want to visit their top three or four schools. Cut back on the number of visits to the same college. Many students visit college campuses twice during the college admissions process—before applying and after acceptance. Cut out one visit. Go before your child applies and be sure to attend both the official information session and campus tour, as the college will make a note that your child attended. Make the campus dining hall the "restaurant" of choice. When visiting college campuses, your child should eat in one of the campus dining halls. Not only is this a much less expensive dining option than eating at a local restaurant, but it also gives your child a chance to connect with current students and get a better feel for the school. Bunk with current college students. Have your child make arrangements to stay in one of the dorms with a current student for a night instead of paying for a hotel room nearby. Call the college to set this up or work with your child’s high school guidance counselor to find a graduate from their high school who is currently attending the college. This helps save money and also lets your child experience campus life first-hand. Take advantage of information available online. Many colleges offer virtual tours of their campuses and participate in online college fairs where your child can chat with a representative of the school. Another way of checking out the school is its virtual community: Read their online newspapers, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Bring the college admissions office closer. If your family can’t afford to visit at all, bring the college admissions office to you —see when an admissions officer is coming to your area or have your child request an alumni interview with a graduate in your local area.Visit colleges with a group. Have your child get a group of friends together from their high school who are interested in the same colleges. Another cost-effective option is a group tour set up by a private company. One example is College Visits, a company that offers all-inclusive group college tours and even sets up meetings with admissions representatives. By participating in this type of program, your child can visit as many as 10 college campuses in a week. Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economyCouple a campus visit with another trip. Your child can begin to visit college campuses as early as his or her freshman year of high school. You can easily factor a campus visit into an already-planned vacation or any out-of-town visit. Save early for other costs that come up during the college application process. While parents often save for college tuition, they frequently forget to budget for the costs of applying to college. At ApplyWise, we’ve found that on average, a family will spend $3,500 for their child to apply to college. This includes standardized testing fees and preparation, application fees and college visits. Calculate your child’s application costs using the free budget calculator at www.ApplyWise.com/budget. With these tips, your family can affordably visit college campuses as your child prepares to make his or her college decisions. However, once you get there, remember that it’s important to make the most out of each and every visit:

  • Visit a college when classes are in session, because you’ll get a much better feel for what the students and campus atmosphere are like.
  • Get off the prescribed tour route — encourage your child to walk around, take pictures and interact with students on campus.
  • Ask questions about the student body, academics and student life.

To get the most out of your campus visit, download a free college visit checklist and worksheet at www.ApplyWise.com/visit.