5 Ways to Save on College Tour Costs: Turn Your Child's Campus Visit into an Affordable Trip

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CLOSE FRIENDS NICOLE JONES, 45, AND LAKEICHA WING, 39, have a lot in common. They work for the same employer and both have teenage children. For the last two years, the two have also traveled together on the Caring for Young Minds Inc. annual black college tour. Their trips combined a bit of vacation fun with the traditional rite of college visits.

"We visited 20 different colleges and universities," says Wing. "We saved $3,000 to $4,000 by participating in the tours. I used the opportunity to take my children on a mini-vacation. My daughter, Destinee, 19, and my son, Antwan, 14, enjoyed several historic and fun attractions."

Touring colleges does not have to cost an arm and a leg. And if planned well, a college tour can even be a low-cost vacation if you visit interesting historic sites as well as college campuses. Here are five ways to minimize the costs of college visits while maximizing family fun.

1 Take an organized college bus tour. You'll be charged an all-inclusive flat fee of $400 to $1,400 per person, depending on the length of the tour and the organization sponsoring it. Adults who sign up to be chaperones may get 50% off or go free of charge. According to Javonne Robinson, a member of the Omicron Eta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which hosts the Annual Black College Bus Tour serving students in the St. Louis area, group tours allow for substantial discounts and perks. Other groups that sponsor tours include Destination Depot in Georgia and Educational Student Tours in California. "The best way to save on college tour costs is to travel with a reputable student tour company," says Gregory Delahoussaye, president of Educational Student Tours. "This significantly decreases the cost."

2 Stay in the dorm for free. If you're planning your own tour, inquire about staying in a dorm at no charge. "Many colleges have programs that pair up prospective students with current students so they can shadow them," says Carol Franklin, owner of Destination Depot. "Typically, these programs are free, though you may have to pay for meals." Some universities offer complimentary visits to accepted students. "We have a free overnight program called Spel-Bound that takes place each April," says Erica S. …