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Saving Money, and Your Sanity, on College Visits (Hint: Resist the Swag)


Some schools offer free “fly in” visits for underrepresented students, including those who are from low-income families or are the first in their families to attend college. “You could get a visit paid for,” said Belinda J. Wilkerson, an education consultant in Fayetteville, N.C.

Oberlin College, for instance, has a multicultural visit program that covers all expenses for high-achieving high school students. The programs typically are competitive, and some are offered only to admitted applicants. CollegeVine, an online college advising site, lists programs on its website.

If air travel is out of the question, try to visit a “proxy” school near home, said Vinay Bhaskara, co-founder of CollegeVine.

“It’s not a perfect match,” he said, “but you’ll get a rough idea.”

If you can afford only one visit, make it a top-choice college that values “demonstrated interest” and take the official tour. “If you just drive through campus,” Ms. Carlton said, “they don’t know you’re there.”

And be sure to sign up to attend visits by admissions representatives to your school, or talk to a representative at a local college fair: Those also count as showing interest, Ms. Carlton said, as does calling a college representative.

“The best way to show interest is to visit,” she said, “but it’s not the only way.”

Here are some questions and answers about college visits:

My child wants a sweatshirt from every college we visit. Help!

Ms. Barad recommends avoiding the campus bookstore when visiting — or at least having a talk ahead of time about who will pay for any college swag. High school students like to collect the T-shirts and sweatshirts so they can post pictures of themselves wearing them on Instagram — and colleges are well aware of this for marketing purposes. Often, acceptance letters come with discount coupons for the campus store, she said. So perhaps you can make a deal that if your child gets in, you’ll spring for the pricey sweatshirt.


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