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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
The college visit is a critical step for your college-bound child. It can help narrow down where they want to apply, or even be the determining factor in their college decision.
Scheduling a visit is quite simple — usually tours and information sessions can be booked on the school’s website. However, these important factors can help you get the most out of your trip.
Your child should start visiting schools when they’re a junior in high school. That way they can narrow down their “wish list” to schools they really want to apply to. Otherwise, they could waste time and money applying to schools that aren’t a good fit.
Plan your visit for when you can get the best impression of the school and campus. For most areas of the country, that means the fall or spring, when students are out and about on campus. Just make sure your visit isn’t scheduled during the school’s spring break or final exams.
Try to schedule for a weekday, preferably Monday-Thursday. That way you can see students walking to and from class and get a sense of a typical day at the school. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays tend to be quiet on campus.
Planning to go on visits during high school spring vacation? That's a popular time to go, so make sure you book reservations far enough in advance to get a spot. If you can’t go during a vacation, some high schools excuse absences for college visits. Just remember to bring back the proper documentation to prove your child was touring a campus and not napping at home.
So many colleges to see. Where do you start?
Well, the further the campus, the more advanced preparation you’ll need. If you have to book a flight, you’ll probably need a hotel room and rental car as well. Again, if you’re flying out during school vacation, you’ll need to reserve your college tour well in advance since spots fill up quickly. Maybe you could even turn the visit into a family vacation if the college is somewhere fun.
Nearby schools are easier since they can be tackled on a day trip. Roll schools within a day's drive into a single trip. You'll save on gas, but a hotel room could be necessary.
Still, don’t cram too many visits into a short timeframe. Build in enough time between visits so you can explore the area. You and your child need to be alert and well-rested between tours to give each school a fair shake; you don’t want to feel rushed. After all, if you and your child are exhausted, then you’re probably not paying attention to the dining hall, library, or dorm rooms.
In most cases, the actual college visit is free. It’s the traveling and what you do while there that can get expensive. Flights, gas, and hotels are obvious expenses, but don’t underestimate the cost of dining out to recap each visit, or even the sweatshirts at the school’s bookstore.
You can prepare for these expenses by opening a separate savings account specifically for this use. You could start contributing when they’re a sophomore (or younger), then use those funds when the time comes. This also eliminates the stress and guilt of spending when the time comes since that’s what the money's there for!
Some companies, like EF Explore America and goCAMPUSing, offer travel packages built around college visits, so if your child is interested in schools far from home, those could cut the cost of the trip. Just do the proper research on each company and check the itinerary before booking.
Your child’s college decision will have a huge impact on the rest of their life. Their college visit, in turn, will play a big role in that final decision, so make sure you get the most out of the visit. That way your child will have all the information they need to make the best decision.
We are committed to helping you reach your potential. Click here for more information about how to pay for college. Also, you can speak to a Student Lending Specialist by calling 1-888-411-0266 or stopping by your nearest Citizens Bank branch.
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