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  • Make a list of colleges to visit and decide which ones to prioritize based on interest and distance.
  • Create and stick to a budget for visiting schools. Make sure to include the cost of gas, airfare, accommodations, and food.
  • Save money on college visits by carpooling with friends, packing food from home, and using miles to cover airfare.

If your child is applying for college this year, you've likely started thinking about college visits. Walking through campuses filled with picturesque ivy-covered stone buildings is a rite of passage for high school seniors, and it's an important way to help your child figure out if they can see themselves attending the schools they're considering.

But campus visits can also be expensive. Depending on the location, a college visit can range from the cost of a tank of gas to hundreds of dollars for an airplane ticket. With many schools now promoting multiple visits, including overnight stays, it's critical that you know how much you're able to spend and create a budget. Here are a few tips that will help.

Make a list

First, make a list of all the schools you and your child want to visit and arrange that list by priority and distance. If some are far away, determine if you can drive to visit them or if you'll need to fly. If there are too many schools, you might need to prioritize and see only those you can afford to visit. You might also decide to visit only local schools or focus on those where your child has already been accepted.

Make a budget

To make sure that costs don't get out of control, decide how much you're able to spend and stick to your budget. Don't forget to factor in the cost of gas, airfare, accommodations, and meals for each stop. Also, make sure to include a little extra money in your budget for unexpected expenses. If you're planning some wintertime visits, inclement weather could force you to spend an extra night.

Find ways to save

There are usually ways to cut down on costs and make your budget go further. If your child has a friend who wants to visit some of the same schools, for example, consider carpooling or sharing an Airbnb. For car trips, bring a cooler along to save money on eating out. If you have to fly, either try to use miles to cover your airfare, or wait until there is a sale before buying your tickets.

Use your vacation budget

If you normally vacation in the fall or spring and have money budgeted already, you might want to incorporate college visits into your vacation. That way, you'll still be able to enjoy your vacation while simultaneously checking a few schools off your list. Make sure to also take advantage of any trips you'll be making for Thanksgiving or the holidays to visit schools along the way. Keep in mind that classes may not be in session during breaks.

Ask the school for help

If you can't afford to visit a school that's far away, then ask the school if they can help. If a school has accepted your child and your child expresses interest in visiting, they might offer a travel stipend to pay for airfare. Contact the admissions office and tell them about your situation.

Limit visits

Many schools will invite your child to visit more than once. But if your child has already visited in the fall, do they really need an overnight trip in the spring? If you think an overnight would help your child feel confident in their college choice, offer to pay for a visit to their top choice.

These tips should help you visit most of the schools on your list. But don't worry if you aren't able to make it to all of them. Your child will still find a great place to attend. While college visits can help students and their parents feel more confident about their choice, many people still choose their perfect school sight unseen.

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