Suitcase with college gear

Planning College Tours as a MilFam

Now that you’ve learned about funding your children’s college education with the VA loan, it’s time for the fun part: planning college campus tours! We’re on our second round of school visits and I am excited to share the wisdom I learned from our first go-round.

Plan Your Adventure Early

The initial college tour planning might be the most difficult part of the trip. You’ll probably need to balance multiple dates against each other to find the sweet spot, factoring in dates like open campus tours and available leave/vacation time for working parents. If you’re like us, your family might have to split up to cover multiple visits. We’ll all tour one together; then, I’ll take our daughter solo because of my spouse’s pre-planned TDY trip.

Be careful not to cram in too many campuses in one outing. Time flies, and all the schools’ details will blend. Pick two to three colleges within driving distance of each other and strategize the best route to spend several hours at each.

Sign up for Campus Tours ASAP

The early bird gets the best campus tour spots! Months to weeks before your visit, it’s a good idea to check out the college’s tour schedule on their website. They’re usually limited by day and group size, and there’s a good chance that your dates won’t align with the tours.

If you must interact with the student body, don’t sign up for tours while their students are away for a break; try visiting during the summer months. Possibly consider self-guided and virtual tours if your school offers them.

Overnight Stays

Part of the quintessential college visit experience includes an overnight stay in the city where you’re considering investing a lot of money over the next four years. If you’re unfamiliar with the college town, it’s an eye-opening experience for everyone to see how life exists off campus. Unfamiliarity is a good stressor. It helps your kid decide firsthand if they like urban, suburban or rural locations.

Hotels and Vacation Rentals

Just like the best college tour dates, the best overnight accommodations will fill quickly with other out-of-area families. As soon as you secure the dates, make reservations. I often book multiple hotels and then decide later which one to cancel as I learn more about the city and campus.

Keep these criteria in mind to help you decide the best location:

  • Military discounts for lodging. You know about traditional military lodging discounts, but are you familiar with American Forces Travel? It’s an online leisure travel booking website exclusively for members of the U.S. military. You might find a deal on hotels, flights and car rentals.
  • Walkability to and from campus. Is walking to and from campus important to your family? Some prefer the convenience of a walkable location because it saves time and money. We have two schools on our list where students help operate on-campus Marriott hotels, which is so convenient.
  • Parking on campus. A parking spot becomes a big deal if you don’t have one, so make sure you know where plenty of non-ticketed campus parking is located. You’ll also want to check your vehicle’s height for parking garage clearance. This is tricky if you’re storing items in a container up top.

When planning a college trip, rely on the flexibility skills the military has taught you. For example, if your ideal weekend date is booked, consider weekdays instead. You might get more one-on-one attention from the college staff.

And, finally, from one parent to another, leave room for the emotional highs and lows you’ll encounter during the trip. Planning for college is a massive change for everyone, and it’s hard to put strong emotions aside when touring colleges.

Written By Dawn Smith
Army Spouse

Dawn is an experienced military spouse and freelance writer. When she isn’t writing, her teen daughter, Army husband, and Golden Retriever keep her busy with dog walks, home upkeep, travel planning, and chauffeur duties.

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