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by Steve Rosen
It's easy to visit a range of colleges within your own backyard -- a tank of gas and a couple of sandwiches may just do it.
But what if your high school senior has applied this fall to schools all over the map? Think about airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars and meal money. Trying to juggle the trip planning is all but guaranteed to add to the unique stresses of senior year.
Parents have been known to spend a ton of money just on college visits, and some of you may already feel tapped out if you started looking at schools in the junior year.
As someone who has gone through the college selection process twice already -- and is in the middle of a third effort now -- I have some thoughts on how to save money on travel expenses.
Students seemingly are applying to a half-dozen or more colleges these days, so they'll have multiple backup plans in case the numero uno falls through. So, here's a radical thought -- limit visits to serious choices.
Assuming you're not under deadline pressure, even consider waiting until the acceptance letters have arrived before springing for plane tickets to check out the top two schools.
Another way to stretch your dollars is to combine a spring break vacation with side trips to a favorite university's science lab or business school. One caveat: It's best to drop in when school is in session; otherwise you'll just be looking at buildings and won't get much of a feel for the diversity of the student body.
Procrastinators take note: Airfares are on the rise again, so it usually pays to buy tickets early, especially if you've circled the Presidents Day holiday weekend in February for a campus trip.
When it comes to nailing down the travel details, a new website called Go See Campus (www.goseecampus.com) could save you some time. It bundles concise college trip information for more than 2,300 campuses.
The free "College Trip Planner" allows users to download schedules of campus tours and information sessions, get help on parking and travel arrangements, and even find where to get a burger near the main gate. Dates, meetings and other itinerary details are organized for families preparing to hit the road. The aim is to help families "narrow their focus, save time and reduce stress," said Kevin Preis, the website's founder.
Finally, here's one money-saving tip for parents of high school juniors in the Class of 2012: Bundle your campus travel plans.
Minnesota colleges, for example, coordinate visitor weekends for prospective students and offer discounts on application fees for visiting multiple campuses. Likewise, many schools in big urban areas work together in scheduling tour weekends.
Better to save money where you can on travel before you make the big-buck college decisions.
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Copyright © 2010 Steve Rosen. All rights reserved.