College Visit Expenses: Don’t Overlook These Smaller Costs

Written by: Melissa Brock
Updated: 3/10/21

You know the larger costs of visiting colleges: Flights. Transportation. Hotel rooms. What you might not realize is that there’s more than just these major costs you normally associate with college visits. 

Visiting colleges and universities in expensive cities can cost a whopping $2,000 for one trip — at least, according to U.S. News and World Report. It’s not unheard of to spend $3,000 on travel, food and lodging costs before selecting a school to attend. 

Curious about how you can save on that not-so-tiny amount?

Smaller Costs Add Up

The average hotel cost about $90.92 as of November 2020, according to Statista. Watch out once you’re actually in your hotel room. You could pay for parking, WiFi and more. Beyond the major places to stay, know about other smaller fees you’ll encounter once you’re on campus.

Cost 1: Parking Fees 

It’s not cheap to park on campuses. For example, check out the parking fees at the University of Houston: $14 to park for three to four hours, $18 to park for four to 24 hours. Metered parking costs $20 for three to 24 hours.

Doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but if you visit many colleges, it adds up.  

Cost 2: Lunch on Campuses

You could spend money on lunches, breakfasts and dinners on campus because not every admission office offers free lunch. Find out before you go how much lunch will cost if you’re curious — but it’s usually cheap to eat on most college campuses. Make sure you try the food on campus, regardless if you have to pay for it or not. You want to taste the food before you choose that school! 

Cost 3: Swag Items

If you’ve ever peeked at the price tags in any college bookstore, you know that college swag is always expensive. For example, the Northeastern University Bookstore apparel ranges from $12 baseball hats and hockey jerseys that cost over $100. T-shirts and tank tops cost about $35 and a plain water bottle costs $17. The National Association of College Stores generates about $2.4 million in sales each year — including from prospective students and their families.

Cost 5: Meals

You may not eat on campus for every meal. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of an evening meal, whether you opt for Bob Evans or fancier fare. The average casual restaurant cost $13.70 per person, which doesn’t include tax and tip. 

You can expect to spend an average of $71 per person at The Capital Grille and $69 per person at Fleming’s — without tax and gratuity.

Cost 6: Day Passes or On-Campus Events 

Want to check out a lecture, play or festival or football game? You bet you’ll pay for it. Attending a game in the SEC conference could cost you an average of $168, according to Statista.

Not into athletics? The University of Florida’s School of Theatre and Dance’s website charges $20 general public tickets.  

Cost 7: Spending Money

Let’s say your child spends the night on campus. She may want some spending money in case she and her newfound friends want to go to a movie, go out for coffee or get a pizza. Expect to pony up some cash in this situation, unless you encourage her to bring her own spending money for the night.

Cost 8: Airline Upcharges

Don’t be surprised when your airline charges you a “little extra” for items like a $5 charge to print your boarding pass to lugging on a briefcase or purse, which could cost you $50 per bag.

Cost 9: Gasoline

Naturally, gas isn’t a not-so-hidden expense, but don’t underestimate the amount you’ll spend on gas if you take a road trip. If you drive cross-country, note that a typical road trip from New York to Los Angeles has decreased slightly, from $1,159.20 to $1,151.69 between 2015 and 2020, according to Investopedia. 

Cost 10: Enrollment Fees

Surprise! Your child decides to attend the college you’re visiting that day! You’re so excited that you pay the enrollment fee! The college enrollment deposit, a nonrefundable payment made to the college to guarantee your spot in the class, can set you back $200 to $1,000. The fee varies depending on the school. Some enrollment fees get applied toward your first semester tuition payment and you might get some of the enrollment fee returned when your child graduates!

Cost 11: College Applications

What if your child loves the college he visits and applies that very day? Don’t forget about application fees. The average college application fee in 2016 was $43 and $50 was the most common application fee amount, according to U.S. News and World Report. The most expensive applications carry $80 to $90 fees. 

How to Handle the Costs

Now what? You’ve seen the extras that underpin those big visit days. Here’s how to get out from under the costs. 

Tip 1: Tack it onto a family vacation. 

If you’re taking a Florida spring break trip and your high schooler really wants to go to college among the palm trees and sunshine, add a college visit into the agenda mid-week. That way, you’re already paying for a VRBO or hotel room and won’t have to go out of your way to revisit the area later in the year.

Tip 2: Avoid weekend travel or during peak times. 

Skip peak travel times, such as summer travel to coastal cities or hopping onto college visits in ski village areas in the winter. You really can save quite a bit when the craziness dies down. Try the first week of September or the very end of August if you still want to catch some good weather and at the same time, avoid times when families may still be on vacation.

Tip 3: Consider local colleges and universities instead.

Sometimes, you can’t beat your big backyard — at least, when it comes to college visit expenditures. The trend at your high school may be to get as far away as possible, but don’t discount the fantastic school that you might find right down the street.

Handle the College Visit Expenses — Even the Little Ones

You don’t want to skimp on college visits, but you also want to keep them within your budget. Put together some preliminary figures before you start the college search so you’re not completely surprised by the figures when you start totaling up your costs. 

Ask the admissions office for a complete list of expenses before you leave for a college visit. The campus visit coordinator should give you a great idea of how much it will cost, and pre-visit mailings often contain a lot of information about hotels and restaurants in the area. Don’t forget to check out our list of the most affordable universities