Touring Colleges On a Budget

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *

Flat lay of earning money concept

When I started my Web site, EducatedQuest, seven years ago I looked at it as a college guide first; any ideas that could turn it into a paying job would come much later. I learned a great deal about how to stretch limited funds to visit so many schools. In some cases I got help from the schools. Other things I learned by doing, sometimes making mistakes.


When you visit and compare colleges keep in mind that some hotels are more used to hosting high school students and parents than others. Start with the admissions office to ask for recommendations or check out the suggestions on their websites. They will not provide rates, but it is possible that they may help you get a discount at their favored hotels.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage the costs: 

Take advantage of open houses, whenever you can

When you attend a junior open house in the spring or a junior/senior one in fall, you can gather all of the information that you need about the school within a few hours. The best open houses have a “resource fair” where you can introduce yourselves to admissions officers, faculty and staff who handle important areas such as career services, dining and residence life. You wll collect the business cards of every person that you meet who can help if you want to consider that school more seriously. The best open houses also provide breakfast and lunch on the college’s dime, a much appreciated benefit, especially if the food is good.

Avoid football weekends at “football schools”

The local hotels boost their rates for Friday and Saturday nights to accommodate the sports fans. If you are visiting one of these schools for the first time, chances are that you will need to stay at a hotel further from campus, and deal with the hassles of finding parking. Go to campus from Sunday through Thursday then get out of town before the fans pour in.

The best hotel deals may come from the hotel itself

When I started traveling to colleges I booked hotel reservations on outside Web sites, believing that they offered the lowest prices. I learned that I paid a lower price if I called the hotel directly, using the Web site’s price as a guide, mentioning that I was there to visit the college. I have never paid more than the discounted price on the Web site, and have always found the hotel more accommodating when I checked in after I told them that their staff made the reservation. 

Consider hotel rates and locations carefully

I am happiest when I stay at hotels that are within walking distance of anything that I wanted to see on campus. Parking is difficult on many college campuses, and few lots are free.  I have also found that hotels that serve breakfast buffets generally charge $20 or more per person per night than family hotels that do not. You will rarely pay $20 per person for a similar breakfast, even in a major city. If you travel as a group, it might also pay to compare hotel rates with stays available through Airbnb. 

When it comes to swag the local entrepreneurs undercut the campus bookstore

Visit any college town with a major university and you will find at least one local store that will give you a better price on t-shirts and sweatshirts than the campus bookstore. Lately, I’ve noticed more college socks, which are even cheaper. 

If you are not happy with your hotel service, say so.

I have gotten a gift card that paid for three dinners at a sports bar and a free night at a competing hotel by complaining of poor service. Unhappy people are not shy to get the word out on social media. Smart hotel operators try to avoid that. 


College campus visits are more like mini-vacations than trips for business or high school events. You want to have as pleasant a time as you can at as many schools as you can.

An independent college and graduate school admissions advisor based in Central New Jersey, Stuart Nachbar blogs on higher education at EducatedQuest.com. For more about his writing and services, contact him at stuart@educatedquest.com 

Liora's Travel Essentials