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College Visit Road Trip Planning Tips

When it’s time to visit colleges, the process to plan a trip can definitely seem intimidating. These road trips can be a great way to see parts of the country that you normally wouldn’t see, but you’ll also want to make sure that you take the time to observe what you need to see to make college decisions.

When your kids are in high school, it’s important to maximize your vacation time with them. However, you’ll also have to start the college search, and time in these last two years of high school moves quickly. So, it’s important to plan your college visit road trips efficiently. There are a lot of things you can do up front to use your time effectively.

Wondering how to plan college visits on a road trip? Here are our college visit road trip planning tips. Leave us a comment if you have some tips to add.

The University of Rochester's River Campus from a distance with the Genesee River and bare trees in the foreground.

College Visit Road Trip Planning Tips

Make a College List

Before planning college road trips, and hitting the road for visits, you’ll need to make an efficient college list. Whether you hire a college counselor or do your own research, it’s important to develop a list of colleges and universities that are potential options. If your teen isn’t sure of what they want in a college, visit some local college campuses to get an idea of what types of things to look for.

Start With Virtual Tours

You can do many campus tours virtually these days. While it’s still a good idea to do college tours in person, a virtual tour is a great way to really focus in on that college list. You may be able to prioritize some campus visits while eliminating others.

Visiting colleges out of state can be expensive, so virtual tours are a great way to save money. Even if you eliminate just a few options, it can be worthwhile.

Some schools offer on-demand virtual tours, while others have them on a scheduled basis. So this is something you’ll need to research in advance. Plan a schedule for virtual tours so that you aren’t doing them all at once because even attending virtual tours can be tiring.

Map Out Your College List

I’m a visual person, so I needed to see all of my daughter’s college options in one place. Create your own Google map (or any other mapping website) by adding each individual school to the map. Then, scroll out and see clusters of schools where you can road trip. By doing this, we identified several clusters and decided to focus on the upstate New York area for spring break.

You’ll want to figure out how much time you have to tour. Plan enough time between tours so that you aren’t getting overwhelmed, and can also spend some time in the area.

Look at Tour Options

Colleges offer information sessions and tours by reservation. This year, options have been limited, so you’ll need to look at tour options and register as soon as possible. Don’t plan your road trip until you know that you have the tours scheduled. School vacations and holidays can be especially busy.

If you are visiting multiple colleges during your road trip, make sure that you have plenty of time between tours. It’s a great idea to stay overnight in the college town so that you can experience the local area, in addition to the campus.

Dinosaur BBQ with neon lights, people on the top balcony, and car in front.

Book Hotels and Eat Locally

It can be really tempting to tour multiple schools in one day, especially if you have limited time. If at all possible, staying overnight in the area can be a great way to get a feel for the area.

For our road trip, I found local chain hotels with great reviews. We wanted to stay as close as possible to the college campuses that we visited. To get restaurant recommendations, I asked my Facebook friends who lived in the area so that we could visit local gems. Try to avoid national chain restaurants if possible so you can get the full experience.

Snow falling on car windshield during a road trip

Be Prepared

Touring college campuses can be tiring and exhausting. Be prepared for everything that you may face by packing appropriately. Comfortable shoes are especially important because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. I was surprised to see how many steps I did during every tour.

Check the weather in advance so you pack the appropriate clothing. For our upstate New York spring break trip, the weather varied from rain to snow to sun. Even though the temp at our home in Boston was a beautiful 70 degrees, it was cold and rainy in Syracuse. You’ll also want to pack umbrellas.

Ask Questions

The guided tour is truly the best opportunity to learn about the college. Typically these tours are given by current college students, and they are generally very open and willing to answer any questions that you may have. Take every opportunity to ask questions – about the curriculum, student life, dorms, facilities, activities, and dining options.

If the college offers a separate information session, be sure to sign up for that too. It will provide you with essential information, especially about the application process.

Take Photos

A good way to remember the campus is to take photos. There’s usually enough time at each tour stop to take a quick photo on your phone. Then, you’ll have pictures to review later.

Armory Square in Syracuse, with newspaper boxes, a Starbucks, and other buildings.

Take Notes After Each Tour

Once you visit several schools, the details will all start blending together. As soon as you finish a tour, your child should take some time to take notes about the school. List all of the pros and cons, as well as any questions that you still have. It’s also a good idea to start listing things that are most important to your child as they start to narrow down school options.

I printed copies of this checklist from FamilyEducation, and there are lots of others available on the internet.

Redo Your List

After your first college visit road trip, you and your teen will start to have some ideas of what they are looking for in a college. That may mean that you can change the list you started with – adding new schools and eliminating others that may not fit what your teen wants.

Brick buildings from a college campus, a larger dome, bare trees, and a river

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