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Ways to Save Money on College Tours

Updated on March 21, 2013

College Campus Tours

UCLA Royce Hall.
UCLA Royce Hall. | Source

Visiting College Campuses

Choosing a college may be one of the most important tasks of your teen life. Nothing takes the place of seeing the college in person, taking a campus tour, and speaking face-to-face with a college admissions counselor. Unfortunately, many teens don't have a huge budget to be able to travel and visit colleges, but there are ways to save some money and still see your top college campus choices.

Southern California Colleges

show route and directions
A markerPoint Loma Nazarene College -
Point Loma Nazarene University, 3900 Lomaland Drive, San Diego, CA 92106, USA
get directions

B markerSan Diego State University -
San Diego State University, 5225 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92115, USA
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C markerUC San Diego -
University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, San Diego, CA 92093, USA
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D markerUC Irvine -
University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA
get directions

E markerUniversity of Redlands -
University of Redlands, 1200 East Colton Avenue, Redlands, CA 92374, USA
get directions

F markerWhittier College -
Whittier College, 13406 Philadelphia Street, Whittier, CA 90601, USA
get directions

G markerUCLA -
University of California Los Angeles, 675 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA
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H markerOtis College of Art and Design -
Otis College of Art and Design, Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045, USA
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I markerUniversity of Southern California -
The University of Southern California, 850 West 37th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA
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J markerPepperdine University -
Pepperdine University Malibu Campus, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Malibu, CA 902
get directions

Touring College on a Budget

Plan Your Route

A good starting point is to make a list of colleges that you want to visit. Once you have an idea about what schools you want to visit, plot them out on a map to see what your route options might be.

If your schools are all over the map, try dividing them up geographically or at least by airport. Now, you have a basic idea about where you'd like to go. Colleges closest to home or that you can drive to are the least expensive to tour; the colleges you have to fly to are the most expensive to tour.

Find a Buddy to Share Expenses

Now that you know what colleges you want to visit and which you might be able to tackle in a single trip, see if you have a friend or a group of friends who would like to share expenses on one or more trips. Ask kids you know from scouts, school, church, tutoring, music lessons, sports or wherever you meet college-bound kids. Traveling takes careful planning and full commitment, so make sure that you ask reliable friends.

With your group of friends (or family if you're going just with them,) estimate your travel expenses and plan out a good travel date. Give yourself time to earn or save the money to make any trips by plane.

Divide and Conquer, Starting Close to Home

Even if your top school choices aren't in your home town or home state, start touring colleges that are on your list and close to you. This doesn't cost you anything, and it will give you valuable insight about what kind of college you might be happiest attending. It will also help you formulate questions to ask tour guides or admissions counselors, as you will ask the same questions at each school you visit.

Saving Money on College Tours

Cheap Hotels Aren't Always Best

When you are ready to take longer trips, check out both low-end and mid-priced hotels that allow more than 4 people per room. Some hotels allow 5 people per room, a great way to share expenses on a college tour trip. When taking a college tour with Girl Scouts, for example, our troop was able to get a rate at Embassy Suites that ended up cheaper than staying in a youth hostel. One caveat: always check hotel pricing to make sure that there are no hidden resort fees or other charges. Daily parking fees, for example, can be very expensive.

Staying at hotels that include breakfast as part of the rate is a great money-saver. For five people sharing one room, this can amount to a savings of $30-60 on breakfast costs.

Camp Grounds and Youth Hostels

During the summer, campgrounds and youth hostels can be a good option for accomodations, particularly if the colleges you are visiting are located in a tourist town. Keep in mind, these types of options are often "rustic" so you have to be prepared to share bathroom facilities and to meet people from all walks of life. During "off-season" times in tourist locales, you might be able to get better rates at motels and hotels, making them a better option than a campground or hostel. For example, visiting San Francisco during January is less expensive than visiting in July.

Meals - On Campus, In Room

Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner, so try to make lunch your big meal of the day. The experience of eating a cafeteria meal on campus is worth the expense because you'll get a realistic idea about what dorm food is like. Many campuses have cafeterias that rival mid-priced restaurants, with multiple daily offerings, organically and locally sourced food, chef-created menus and more.

Shop for dinner at a local grocery store, or bring a cooler with food (if you are traveling by car.) You can prepare simple meals in your hotel room, like sandwiches or salads. Take-out pizza is also an inexpensive option while on the road.

Stay On Campus, In a Dorm

Some colleges offer an overnight experience where you are paired with a student of your gender who will act as your host for a weekend. You'll stay in the dorms, eat at the dorm cafeteria, and possibly even attend a lecture or other event. Check far in advance or ask an admissions counselor if this is an option. It's a great way to experience a college and saves you money on hotels, though you are expected to provide your own transportation and pay for your meals.

Virtual Tours Are an Option

If money is seriously tight and you can't afford to fly or drive to visit your top school choices, check online for virtual tours. Most colleges have some type of virtual campus tour experience, if not, check YouTube and social media for videos put up by students. This will at least give you a flavor of the campus, or of the dorms, which might help you in your decision making process when it comes type to make your college decision.

California College Photos

Dorm lounge at University of Redlands
Dorm lounge at University of Redlands | Source
Whittier College, Los Angeles
Whittier College, Los Angeles | Source
Student projects at Otis College, Los Angeles
Student projects at Otis College, Los Angeles | Source
Dorm signs, UC Irvine
Dorm signs, UC Irvine | Source

Planning Tips for College Tours

  • Always check and recheck college websites for current information regarding campus and housing tours. If advance sign-ups are required for tours, be sure you make your tour reservations before buying plane tickets, and that your tour is confirmed.
  • Take photos of everything on your tours. If you're visiting many campuses, you'll appreciate having photos because it will help jog your memory when you're home trying to remember everything you saw and heard.
  • If you're planning to visit multiple campuses in a single trip, be sure you allow yourself sufficient travel time between campuses, or you may miss your tour time.


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