College certainly isn’t free, what with the cost of tuition, room, board and fees, college applications, the cost of standardized tests and more. It’s easy to think that those are the only costs involved in the process, but they aren’t.
So, in general, are college tours free?
Yes and no.
You don’t pay money to go on the college tour but the “extras” cost money. When your child visits college, you have to think about other costs — travel expenses, meal purchases and hotel visits. Consider the cost of visiting five schools. Flights, meals, parking and hotel rooms can cost into the hundreds (if not thousands!) of dollars.
However, colleges and universities often invest their resources to make college visits absolutely free of charge for students.
- Do College Tours Cost Money?
- Which Types of Programs Offer Free College Visits?
- Diversity Fly-in Programs
- Travel Reimbursement
- Scholarships and Grants for College Visits
- Who is Eligible for Free College Visits?
- What Do Free College Visits Typically Entail?
- How to Qualify for a Free College Visit
- Step 1: Help your child identify colleges to visit.
- Step 2: Contact the admissions office.
- Step 3: Keep track of processes.
- Step 4: Consider budgeting.
- Step 5: Make visits happen.
- What if We Don’t Qualify for a Free Visit?
- Should You Do Virtual Tours?
- Learn More About Free Tours
- Are college tours expensive?
- Are college tours worth it?
- What should I expect at a college tour?
- Do college tours increase chances of getting in?
Do College Tours Cost Money?
No, tours themselves do not cost money, and generally, neither do college visits. In other words, you don’t have to pay a fee to the campus visit coordinator as soon as you step onto the threshold of the admission office. However, you might have to pay to park in the admissions office lot or a lot near the admissions office on campus. You might have to pay to eat lunch in the cafeteria.
Let’s break down the definition of a college tour. College or university tours involve a walking tour of campus that lasts between 60 to 90 minutes. In these, a tour guide (typically a college student) takes you through academic buildings, residence halls, student lounges, cafeterias and more.
A college visit refers to all the activities you do while you’re on campus, including the tour. For example, the full visit might include the following:
- Academic presentation
- Meeting with faculty
- Tour of campus
- Meeting with admissions or financial aid
- Eating lunch on campus
- Meeting with an extracurricular advisor or coach
It’s worth asking how much you’ll pay in extra fees when you sign up for your visit. The campus visit coordinator or your admissions counselor will tell you what fees you’ll pay once you’re on campus. Overall, these direct fees shouldn’t cost a lot.
Which Types of Programs Offer Free College Visits?
Some colleges offer programs that guarantee that your child’s visit will cost nothing. Students may tap into a wide variety of options, but the tricky thing is that all colleges may offer different options. It’s also worth noting that colleges may not offer free programs for parents — only students. Let’s take a look at three main types of programs you may want to ask about: diversity fly-in programs, travel reimbursement and scholarships for college visits.
How do you find out about the opportunities available at colleges and universities? Easy! Just ask, referencing some of these program ideas/opportunities when you ask the admissions office.
Diversity Fly-in Programs
Colleges may want to develop their profiles by developing its minority population. Therefore, they may have something called fly-in weekends, diversity overnight programs or weekend immersions. Colleges may call them different things, but the point is that they cost nothing to attend for the entire visit — meals, the overnight visit, everything is free. Students will spend the night on campus with another student, eat meals in the cafeteria and experience college life side-by-side with another current student.
Students who visit colleges (typically from out-of-state) might qualify for travel reimbursement, such as flight or gas expenses. Typically, the admissions office accepts receipts and then sends a check to reimburse you, the parent. Colleges and universities may require your child to live a certain distance away from the school in order to qualify for travel reimbursement. For example, you probably can’t expect to get travel reimbursement if you and your student live just one hour away.
Scholarships and Grants for College Visits
Some colleges and universities will give you a scholarship or grant for making an official campus visit. However, it’s likely that you’ll need to enroll in exchange. For example, a school might state on its website, “If you make an official campus visit, you’ll receive $1,000 per year for up to four years when you attend XYZ College.” Look into the requirements, such as visiting by a specific date.
Who is Eligible for Free College Visits?
In general, free college visits are set up for those who would find the cost of college visits too expensive or for underrepresented students on campus. Colleges would like to underrepresented students who fit certain backgrounds, such as the following:
- First-generation college students: First-generation (also sometimes abbreviated “first gen”) means that parents of college students didn’t attend a four-year college, regardless of whether prior generations (including grandparents) did.
- Lower-income students: “Low income” refers to a family’s taxable income for the preceding year that did not exceed 150% of the poverty level amount.
- Minority racial and ethnic backgrounds: Colleges and universities may also put efforts toward recruiting underrepresented minorities. Hispanic undergraduates have increased at four-year colleges and universities since 1996 (their numbers have jumped from 6% to 16% in 2016). Hispanics are now the largest minority group at minimally selective four-year institutions.
What Do Free College Visits Typically Entail?
Free college visits for students may include a wide variety of options. Your child may have great leeway in choosing the activities they want to do on campus. Other schools may completely structure the visit, particularly if no family members tag along. Your child may not have much choice about the times and arrangement of activities, whether it includes an academic presentation, meeting with faculty members, tour and more. The college may strictly weave these activities into what your child does.
The timing may matter as well. Fly-ins and diversity visit programs typically occur in the spring of junior year or fall of senior year. Colleges may also conduct fly-in and visit programs during the spring semester of your child’s senior year to help your student ultimately decide where to attend college — these ultimately give them a last chance to market the college.
How to Qualify for a Free College Visit
Let’s take a look at how to help your child qualify for a free college visit.
Step 1: Help your child identify colleges to visit.
The first step might seem like the trickiest part — targeting colleges to visit! However, that’s a good way to narrow down all the free college visit options. Ask your child where they think they might want to visit — large state universities, small private colleges or mid-sized universities.
If your child doesn’t know for sure, it’s worth considering visiting local colleges and universities to get a feel for the opportunities closer. Otherwise, explore strong options that have your child’s major.
Once you have two or three options narrowed down, you can move onto the next step.
Step 2: Contact the admissions office.
At each of those schools, contact the admissions office. The admission counselor assigned to your child’s part of the country can let you know about your options for free college tours. The counselor may outline a number of options or may require proof of your financial situation if that’s the requirement to qualify for free tours.
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) gives you and your child the fastest way to prove your financial situation. The admissions office will know pretty quickly whether you have a qualifying income level that allows your child to attend a free college visit. In the same way, if you report your child’s status as a minority, they will likely check your child’s qualifications or take a look at the application.
Step 3: Keep track of processes.
Every school has a different process, so keep track of the visit benefits for each school. It might get confusing if you have six schools on the list! Consider whittling down the list with your child as you go on visits. You may not have to use every voucher because your child might find a dream school halfway through the search process.
Step 4: Consider budgeting.
If you can, consider putting together a budget for college visits. Like it or not, it may cost something to make college visits happen, particularly if your child doesn’t meet every single qualification that the school requires for free visits. Note that parents aren’t always covered during free college visits, so that might be the biggest downside. You may have to pay for yourself to go.
Step 5: Make visits happen.
Next, make college visits happen. Again, you may have to pay for yourself to attend. If you can’t financially afford it, you may not enjoy the fact that you have to sit out of college visits. Sending your child on college visits on their own may not make you feel good about the search process, but if it gives your child a chance to visit colleges, then it might be a good thing. If you’re in a tough spot financially, it may end up being the only way to go.
What if We Don’t Qualify for a Free Visit?
Some colleges won’t offer free visits. If a school offers a somewhat reduced cost for its college visits, they still might not end up as affordable as you want. Consider adjusting your child’s college list to schools that are more willing to adjust the cost of tours.
You may also want to consider making another request to the admissions office to find out what else they may be able to do for your child. In many cases, admissions offices want to do everything they can to get qualified applicants on campus. They may be willing to make a special exception for your child and cover visit costs.
Should You Do Virtual Tours?
Virtual tours are online college tours that you can take while you sit at home in your living room. You and your student may want to consider sitting in on online tours of colleges at the beginning of the college search process.
However, don’t make them your only visit. A college puts its best foot forward with virtual tours. This means that they show only the shiniest options on campus — perfect buildings, beautiful residence halls and more. They put the perkiest students on the tour video and everything looks fresh and amazing. A virtual tour almost always shows an altered reality of campus, so make sure your child gets their feet on campus.
Learn More About Free Tours
Don’t stop looking for options for free tours, even if the option isn’t immediately apparent on a college or university’s admission website. In fact, many won’t publish information about free college tours. Call and ask to learn more and to answer the question, “Do college tours cost money at this particular school?” — it’s your best bet.
Let’s take a look at a few frequently asked questions about free college tours.
Are college tours expensive?
In general, college tours are not expensive. They typically don’t cost you or your child money. Colleges and universities generally offer free tours, free lunch on campus and more. However, it’s the other expenses — hotel, airfare, gas and more — that can add up.
Are college tours worth it?
Yes, college tours are worth it. There’s nothing more important to choosing the right college than getting you and your child’s feet on campus and experiencing it for yourself. You’ll talk to the students, faculty members and other individuals who will make your child’s college experiences invaluable.
What should I expect at a college tour?
One of the most common questions prior to starting the college search process looks like this: How to tour colleges? College visits may involve a wide variety of opportunities that align with your students’ interests. For example, if your child wants to play soccer in college, your child may talk to the soccer coach. The college tour makes up a portion of the college visit. In a college tour, a tour guide takes students through academic buildings, residence halls, common areas and more. The campus tour gives students a general overview of what to expect when they are a student on campus and also gives them an opportunity to ask questions while on the college tour.
Do college tours increase chances of getting in?
No. Your child taking a college tour does not determine whether or not they will get into a college. Your child’s qualifications for admission do more to determine whether your child will get into a particular college or university. However, it’s always good to meet the individuals on campus and have your child show their personality, interests and more. That may tip the scales in favor of admission if your child is “on the bubble.”