I figured I’d throw out a few college tour and travel tips based on our experiences. Please feel free to add any you may have in the comments in an effort to help others!
First, I’ll start with tips for the actual college tours:
- Schedule visits long before you go to ensure you get a spot, as tour slots at the popular colleges can fill up quick. They’ll send you helpful info, directions, parking locations, etc, once you register. I’d advise also doing a little additional homework depending on how much info they give you:
- Be sure you know where to park and how to get there once you enter campus. Some of the larger campuses can be a pain to navigate.
- Be sure that you know how much parking will cost (if the school charges), and what forms of payment are accepted. Have a little bit of cash just in case a school’s pay machine only takes cash. Also, pay close attention to the parking info the schools send. In one case (Loyola), they’d sent an additional email the night before our tour with a code to enter into the parking meter so we’d get free parking, but we missed that section of the email and ended up paying a few bucks to park there. Oops 🙂
- If it’s a school that’s at the top of your list going in, see if you can schedule to meeting with an admissions advisor in conjunction with the tour. You’ll be able to get more detailed info and ask more targeted questions in those meetings. Observation – That’s far easier at the smaller schools from what we saw.
- Get there early, and spend some time driving the area around campus just to get a feel for what the surrounding area offers, how safe it looks, etc.
- Take plenty of pictures on the campus tour. The pictures will help you associate what you remember about the school after the fact. Trust me, a month or so later you may be hard pressed to remember much about each campus if you don’t have pictures to match up with your notes, especially if you see several schools back to back.
- If you’re scheduling more than one tour in a single day, be sure to schedule schools that aren’t far from each other on the same day. The tours we attended lasted anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, and with most of the early ones starting around 10am and the afternoon ones starting in the 1:30pm – 2:00pm range, so there were times when it was hard to squeeze lunch in between the tours. In our case, we went out to California with 14 schools on the list, and 8 business days to squeeze those tours in to. My wife spent a lot of time organizing the tours in such a way that we could meet this requirement, and did a great job.
- Make friends with other families on your tours. On our housing tour at UCSD, we met a family who was touring the campus with their daughter, who also had an older son that was a current student at UCSD, and an older daughter who recently graduated from UCLA. The mother was very open about her likes and dislikes of each school (and her kids’ impressions), and we were able to glean some really good information from our conversation with her.
- If possible, tour the campuses during the school year to get a feel for what they’re like when classes are in full swing. Full credit to MMGoesToCollege’s recent post for this one.
Next, if you’re going for a longer trip (say, a week or more), here are a few tips for saving money in the city you’re staying:
- Use an AirBNB/VBRO type site and find a place to stay with a full kitchen so you can get groceries and save money (and not end up eating junk every day). The apartment we stayed in while in LA cost us about the same as a 2-star hotel in a decent area of the city would have for that same period, and it was much nicer and had a full kitchen. We saved a ton of money (and calories) by shopping for food for all breakfasts, some lunches, and all dinners while in town. The only meals we ate out for were lunches on days where we had two tours scheduled.
- If you’re going to be in a given city for more than a couple of days, check out the discount cards at the local grocery store to see if they have any local gas rewards that you could use to knock down other trip costs a little. An example, the grocery store we used, Vons, has gas rewards:
- On that same topic, apps like GasBuddy are your friend. I know most people are familiar with the app already, but I rarely use it at home, and almost forgot to check it the first time we needed gas. Saving every penny you can on gas, especially in an area like SoCal, goes a long way. Prices we saw for regular ranged anywhere from $3.92/gal to $4.87/gal. We saw that $4.87 in Beverly Hills, and saw a station for $3.95 less than 4mi away. Seriously, I’d make the trip to the cheaper station on principle, even if I had an unlimited budget. That’s absurd.
During our downtime, we didn’t want to be confined to the apartment, but we also didn’t want to spend a bunch of money, so we got creative. If you’re going to L.A. for anything, here are a few suggestions:
- California Science Center. We got tickets to see the space shuttle Endeavor for $2/pp (convenience fee), and paid $8 to park. We walked around the science center for a bit before and after our Endeavor time, which is free
- If you happen to head out in the direction of Palm Springs on I-10, there’s a little dinosaur museum out in the middle of nowhere that’s pretty cheap ($8/pp I think). Fun fact, the large dinos they have were props in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
- Walk Hollywood Blvd. Yea, it’s kinda touristy and can be busy, but still a must do if you’ve never done it. We stayed about 3mi away, so we walked there and back. It was a bit of a hike for something we’d done a few years prior, but saved the frustration of driving in traffic, and whatever it would have cost to park.
- If you’re over by UCLA, hit up the ice cream shop I mentioned in that school’s review, Diddy Riese. Delicious, cheap ice cream 🙂
- If you’re up for a tour of one of the studios, we found the Paramount tour to be pretty good. This one actually costs a bit ($48/pp) but it’s still cheaper than the theme parks these days. That was our one big splurge for entertainment. The trip wasn’t meant to be a vacation, and I made very clear my daughter understood that going in.
- Take a spin on Mulholland Drive. Once we got up there, the road wasn’t too busy, and there were a handful of small spots to stop and take in the view. Honestly, that’s the kind of road that makes me wish I still owned my MINI 🙂
We did actually eat one dinner out, which I’ll take a second to plug. Any time we go to L.A., this is always a must-stop for us: The Stinking Rose. It’s a garlic-themed restaurant, so if you’re into garlic, not a bad place to eat. In the past I’ve had the filet mignon, which is excellent, but this time went cheaper and just stuck with the pepperoni pizza and an order of the Bagna Calda for the bread. Yummy.
Well, that’s all I have for this one. Gotta go pack, my daughter and I are hopping in the car and heading to Baltimore in the morning for one of my favorite weekends of the year: Our 4th annual father/daughter race weekend. We’ll be spending 3.5 days in the Inner Harbor area taking in some ALMS and IndyCar action. Anyone who happens to read this and is in that area, come check it out! Nothing like a bunch of finely tuned race cars flying past you at 120+MPH on the city streets :).
As mentioned above, feel free to post additional tips in the comments below. Have a great Labor Day weekend!