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6 Money-Saving Tips to Keep Your College Visits from Breaking the Bank

College • January 06, 2020 • Chris Morrison


What you’ll learn

  • How to choose which colleges to visit
  • Different expenses you may incur
  • How to tour a college from your couch
  • How to make the most of your (already planned and paid for) trips


The cost of a college visit can be unexpected if you don’t have a plan. With a little bit of strategic planning, however, you can easily complete a productive and successful college tour on a budget.

College visits. A rite of passage that can bring a “love at first sight” or a “swipe left” mentality when choosing between schools.

The importance of a college visit in the decision-making processes is not lost among today’s high school students. In fact, it’s only increasing in significance. Earlier this year, a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, found 47.3% of full-time students in 2017 reported college visits were “very important” in their final decision – up from 37.6% of students in 2003.

That said, visiting colleges may also mean visiting the ATM. From transportation and lodging, to food and that ever so tempting college bookstore, you can easily spend more money on college visits than originally intended. And the cost of a college visit can be unexpected if you don’t have a plan. With a little bit of strategic planning, however, you can easily complete a productive and successful college tour on a budget.

So, with that in mind, what are some things you can do to maximize your college visit while also planning for costs?

  1. Prioritize

    No, it is not necessary to visit every school where you will be applying. Instead, be selective. It will end-up saving you money. Here are a few things to consider when choosing schools to visit:

    • If you are planning to apply early decision to a school, make sure you prioritize and budget for a visit.
    • Applying to multiple colleges? Uncertain as to what college “mix” fits you best? Focus on scheduling at least one visit for each type of school for exposure to different options.
    • Prioritize visits to schools where you may have the highest chances of acceptance.
    • In summary, by being selective, you ensure that you are focusing on the college visits that matter most.

  2. Create a college visit combo

    Make the most out of your college visits by coordinating visits to schools located in the same area at the same time. Grouping visits to schools in proximity to one another will help you get the most value out of the money spent on transportation, lodging, and food.

    Before heading out on the road, map out where each school is physically located, and determine which visits can be coordinated on the same trip.

  3. Piggyback visits for the piggybank

    Have a trip planned within a couple hours (or closer) to one of your possible schools? Piggyback a college visit on a prescheduled trip! Take advantage of the money that you have already spent on travel by taking the time to visit schools in the area – especially if you are flying.

  4. Free lodging anyone?

    If possible, staying with friends or family is an excellent way to save on hotel costs.

    Even better, stay with friends or family members who are current students at the school you are visiting! You’ll get the rare opportunity to shadow an actual student and experience a day in the life at the school.

  5. Go virtual

    If you’re on the fence about visiting a specific school, take a virtual tour first! Today, many colleges offer virtual tours and other digital resources to give prospective students a sense of the school’s campus and culture from the comforts of their own home.

    While virtual tours likely won’t replace the value of in-person visits, they can be a good option for determining whether a visit is a good next step. Especially if you are considering visits to schools that require purchasing airfare and a hotel for the night.

  6. To swag, or not to swag

    Ah, the campus bookstore. The one-stop shop filled with every piece of college swag your heart desires, but infamous for undermining a college tour budget.

    No, you don’t need to buy a trendy college sweatshirt at every stop on your college tour. But if souvenir purchases are a priority, set a swag budget ahead of time and stick to it. Doing so will make sure there are no financial surprises down the road.

With a little pre-planning, you can easily organize a successful and productive college visit without breaking the bank.

Looking to plan and save for college? Check out this free College Planning Calculator to create a winning financial plan to help you tackle college finances like a pro!


Chris graduated from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. An analyst for Sallie Mae, Chris is interested in all things college, personal finance, and the Washington Nationals.


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