Close friends Nicole Jones, 45, and LaKeicha Wing, 39, have a lot in common. They work for the same employer and both have teenage children. For the last two years, the two have also traveled together on the Caring for Young Minds Inc. annual black college tour. Their trips combined a bit of vacation fun with the traditional rite of college visits.
“We visited 20 different colleges and universities,” says Wing. “We saved $3,000 to $4,000 by participating in the tours. I used the opportunity to take my children on a mini-vacation. My daughter, Destinee, 19, and my son, Antwan, 14, enjoyed several historic and fun attractions.”
Touring colleges does not have to cost an arm and a leg. And if planned well, a college tour can even be a low-cost vacation if you visit interesting historic sites as well as college campuses. Here are five ways to minimize the costs of college visits while maximizing family fun.
1. Take an organized college bus tour.
You’ll be charged an all-inclusive flat fee of $400 to $1,400 per person, depending on the length of the tour and the organization sponsoring it. Adults who sign up to be chaperones may get 50% off or go free of charge. According to Javonne Robinson, a member of the Omicron Eta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which hosts the Annual Black College Bus Tour serving students in the St. Louis area, group tours allow for substantial discounts and perks. Other groups that sponsor tours include Destination Depot in Georgia and Educational Student Tours in California. “The best way to save on college tour costs is to travel with a reputable student tour company,” says Gregory Delahoussaye, president of Educational Student Tours. “This significantly decreases the cost.”
2. Stay in the dorm for free.
If you’re planning your own tour, inquire about staying in a dorm at no charge. “Many colleges have programs that pair up prospective students with current students so they can shadow them,” says Carol Franklin, owner of Destination Depot. “Typically, these programs are free, though you may have to pay for meals.” Some universities offer complimentary visits to accepted students. “We have a free overnight program called Spel-Bound that takes place each April,” says Erica S. Johnson, director of admissions at Spelman College in Atlanta.
3. Stay in on-site hotels.
Some colleges have on-site hotels that offer great amenities—and deals. One is Tuskegee University. Visitors participating in campus tours are given a discount rate at the school’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. “This facility includes the restaurant Dorothy’s Place, a fitness center, and an indoor pool with a Jacuzzi,” says Cynthia Daniels Sellers, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. Regent University’s Founders Inn and Spa (www.foundersinn.com) in Virginia Beach, Virginia, offers discounts to prospective students and their parents from April through July. “When parents and students visit, they should feel welcome and get the sense that every effort is being made to make their visit pleasant, financially and otherwise,” says Megan Whaling, director of sales and marketing.
4. Take advantage of school-sponsored discounts.
Inquire about fly-in reimbursement. For example, Bryant University, in Rhode Island reimburses half of the cost of airfare, up to $150, for long-distance prospective students that come to visit. If they enroll, they are reimbursed 100%, up to $300. The flight reimbursement is for prospective students only. Tulane University’s travel portal provides information about flights and car rentals.
5. Start early and research well.
Jones says she started early researching the schools she wanted to tour with her 16-year-old daughter, Shannon. Contact area churches, sororities, fraternities, school counselors, and other organizations for help. Try to find early bird prices on hotels. Research additional discounts on websites such as Groupon.com, Scoutmob.com, LivingSocial.com, and KGBdeals.com. “Start planning as early as possible,” Franklin advises. “Also, plan your meals at the school when possible.”
Wing’s daughter, Destinee, is now a sophomore pre-med student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She says the tours helped her in making her decision. “I liked the different displays of college life during my tours,” says Destinee. “No two campuses were the same, and the history of each was interesting.”