by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *
Are you planning any college tours in cold weather locales for November, early December or after the New Year? If you are its essential to be prepared, as often the weather might not be your best friend. I have taken many campus tours in winter months and even walked through Bryn Mawr College in two-degree weather during an open house. Mid-Atlantic winters are supposed to end in mid-March, but it’s quite common to experience ice and snow in late April, and certainly no fun to travel through it. One advantage of winter travel is that hotel rates will generally be lower from December through February than they will be in the fall or spring. But cold weather travel demands that you be more flexible in your travel planning. Here are some pointers to help.
Prioritize campuses in favor of those that have a downtown. Whether you are visiting a school in a college town or major city, it’s easier to get around a pedestrian-friendly or transit accessible community in the winter than one where you need to rely on your car. Sidewalks typically get cleaned before streets. Bus lanes get cleared before on-street parking. Parking on campus for visitors gets lower priority over parking for faculty and commuting students. Choose a hotel within walking distance of campus and downtown, or near any college bus service or public transportation that will help you to get around.
Stay close to campus in a hotel with secure underground or deck parking. Park the car in a secure place where it will not be covered with snow, and leave it there for the duration of your visit. It's better to spend the extra money for peace of mind than to deal with difficult weather conditions and aggravation in an unfamiliar place.
Choose a hotel with a restaurant, even if you use it as a last resort. The worst the weather conditions become, the more likely the possibility that local businesses, including restaurants, will close their doors for the day. You don't want to be stuck with no place to go for meals. While it’s true that hotels with restaurants may charge more for your room, you’re less likely to starve if the weather goes sour.
Avoid visiting schools on days that they play basketball or hockey games, unless you’re a fan who can get tickets. Basketball and hockey do not have the same following as football, but a major rivalry game can draw crowds of visitors to campus for the night, especially on a Thursday or Friday. The fans from out of town will want the same hotels as you will to celebrate a win or drown in their sorrows after a loss. The hotels with good restaurants win, but your wallet may lose. If you're not there for the game, you'll pay more for the same hotel room for no reason.
Make sure that you choose a hotel with a reasonable cancellation policy. If the weather gets worse and rules out taking the trip you do not want to pay to stay home.
Bring lined or waterproof shoes or boots. Cold water and snow can ruin canvas, leather or nylon shoes and leave your feet completely soaked, even when you wear thicker socks. You don’t want to deal with a cold during a campus visit, and you don’t want to buy new shoes or sneakers after you get home.
Buy gloves with cell-phone friendly fingertips. You don’t want to take your gloves off to snap pictures or make a phone call. I personally like the Under Armour gloves. They will not only protect your hands from the cold; they also make it easy to grip a steering wheel.
Take it from someone who has been stuck and spent money to become unstuck during winter campus visits. These tips, among others, will help make your winter journeys to cold weather campuses more bearable.
* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.