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How to plan the perfect college tour trip

Looking for the perfect college doesn't have to be a nightmare


Looking for the perfect college for your son or daughter is an exciting yet stressful time, and many parents flunk out during the process.

“Parents are not only dealing with the emotion of sending their kids off on their own, but also with the knowledge that they’ll soon be footing a rather large tuition bill. So it’s natural that saving money wherever possible becomes a top priority," said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group.

In this economic climate, cost is a major priority for parents thinking of hitting the road to check out campuses.  With spring break in the rear view mirror, travelers could scoop up some deals. Average summer airfare to some of the bigger college towns, such as Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles are now between $340 to $377, making it worth it to hop a flight. And when you hit the ground car rentals could be as low as $45 per day.  

There are other factors to consider besides money.  Travel experts say it's important to build it enough time to get the feel of a prospective school, and to plan other activities to help cut the stress of the what is ultimately a big decision.

Whether it's knowing where to visit or what to do once when you're there, family travel expert Eileen Ogintz of Taking the Kids gives Fox News Traveler some tips for how to take the anxiety out of touring colleges and how to include some fun activities during the trips.

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Do your research. 

When starting the process of searching for the right fit, make a list of the qualities you want to find in the school. Also, determine whether the student wants to attend a state, church, city, rural, small or big college. Ogintz says if your teenager is unsure, visit a combination of campuses within a drivable distance of your home and then start narrowing down the list.

One on one. 

Only bring the college-bound kid along. Ogintz recommends one parent take the teenager on the trip and leave the spouse with the other children at home. She suggests this will not only save money, but also provide the junior or senior with the opportunity to really look at the colleges without the distraction of siblings. It also gives that parent a unique bonding opportunity with their child.

Make a combo vacation.

If you don't have time to take your child on a separate vacation, plan to tour some colleges while on a family trip over spring break or during the summer. "Say your child is interested in schools in southern California so maybe you're going to do a southern California vacation," Ogintz said. "While one parent is doing something else with the other kids, the other parent is touring schools."

Take recess on vacation. 

Ogintz suggests against visiting schools for more than three days in a row. For example, enjoy a day at Disney World or the beach if you're looking at colleges in Florida as a way to clear your mind and break up the monotony of visiting campuses day after day. Otherwise, she says it's easy to get sensory overload and it will be harder to see the differences between the universities.

Expect trips to fail.

Even though it's your alma matter and you loved your experience there 30 years ago, it doesn't mean your child will share your enthusiasm while touring the school. In fact, Ogintz says it's not uncommon for students to take one look around campus and then quickly conclude it's not for them. "I had a son, who after we drove four hours to a campus, refused to get out of the car," Ogintz said. "That's not an uncommon experience - so all you can do is shrug and
move on."

Procrastination may pay off.

With students often applying to more than a dozen schools, it's hard to know which ones to visit. If your child is applying to schools from Washington to Florida and everywhere in between, wait to plan a campus visit until after receiving an acceptance letter. Your pocketbook will thank you.