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Most of us are eagerly waiting for spring to arrive. But, for high school students, it’s not just warmer weather they’re excited about; it’s college acceptance letter season. Yes, after months of hard work, seniors will finally get to choose where they will spend the next few years of their lives. And to do that, you probably want to tour college campuses. But finding the time (and money) to visit all those schools can be harder than getting in. So, why not turn college visits into vacations aka visit-cations?
“The visit-cation trip is certainly gaining traction across the country and is something that we’ve seen in Bloomington, Indiana, for years,” Erin White, director of leisure marketing and media at Visit Bloomington, told TPG. “Touring colleges is one of the last trips parents and their kids will ever take while they all still live under one roof. A new beginning of sorts, so why not make the most of it and really dig into the destination?”
That’s precisely what Lara Salahi did when deciding between schools along the Eastern Seaboard. “It was my dad’s idea to take my sister and me on a road trip from Washington, DC, to Boston over Christmas to see different schools,” she told us. “Location is really important when deciding where to apply and eventually where to go. So, it helped us decide what type of environment we were looking for in a college. Plus, it was memorable to spend time with my family.”
The idea has become so popular recently that it even inspired Graduate Hotels—a chain of boutique properties located in university towns across the country—to offer a visit-cation discount to families hitting the road to scope out colleges.
So, what are some good spots to visit and how can you save money while touring colleges? Check out itineraries below for the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest and West for inspiration. But, know you can simply map out any colleges of interest and string together a fun getaway if they’re close by.
While many families opt to fly to visit colleges, road trips are a rite of passage for all families. Here are some tips for surviving a road trip! And, don’t forget to use points at those hotel/motel stops along the route.
Start in Washington, DC, to visit schools like Georgetown and George Washington University (stay at Hyatt Place Washington DC/US Capitol from 12,000 World of Hyatt points a night) before driving through Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and on to Penn State (where you can book a room at Hyatt Place State College for 12,000 points a night).
Then head east to New York City to check out New York University, and spend the night at Even Hotels New York from 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night or check out the best Marriott Category 5 hotels for families in NYC. And, if you’ve got a lot of family in tow, TRYP Times Square South may be just what you need with rooms that sleep eight for just 15k Wyndham Rewards points. The next morning, stop at Yale on your way north to Boston to see Harvard, Northeastern and Boston University. Spend another night or two at Kimpton Nine Zero (from 60,000 IHG points) before heading home. (Rack up World of Hyatt points with the World of Hyatt Credit Card and amass IHG points with the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.)
There’s a lot of ground to cover in the Midwest. You can fly into Chicago Midway via Southwest Airlines. (There’s still time to take advantage of the airline’s amazing Companion Pass offer by signing up for one of its credit cards by Feb. 11. After spending $4,000 in the first three months of holding the card, you’ll earn the Companion Pass, which is valid through the end of 2019. You can then take a family member or friend on any paid or award flight for just the cost of fees and taxes, which are $5.60 for domestic flights. Imagine how much money you could save on these college visits!)
Official application links: Earn the Companion Pass and enjoy 2-for-1 travel for the rest of 2019 with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card
Once in Chi-Town, spend the night at Aloft Chicago Downtown River North (Category 4 Marriott ) before heading 30 minutes north to check out Northwestern University. Then head south through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on to Washington University in St. Louis, where you can book a room at the Category 5 Hotel Saint Louis, Autograph Collection, using Marriott. (Earn Marriott points with any of the new Bonvoy program credit cards.)
It’s just under four hours to Indiana University Bloomington, where you can stay the night at Graduate Bloomington (which just opened in December) and make your way to Notre Dame University (stay at Embassy Suites by Hilton South Bend at Notre Dame from 33k to 70k Hilton Honors points). The last stop is the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor before spending the night in Detroit at Crowne Plaza Detroit Downtown Riverfront (from 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night).
You could easily make a (long) road trip out of just visiting Texas schools. But, there is a way to sneak in another state if you have your heart set on the school in the Southwest. Start in Houston, where you can book a tour at Rice University and spend the night at Hyatt Regency Houston from 12,000 Hyatt points a night or stay right across the stadium where the Astros play at the Westin Houston Downtown and take in a ballgame. If you are there during warm weather, also consider staying at the Marriott Marquis and take a swim in a lazy river shaped like Texas.
Make a pit stop at Texas A&M in College Station on your way to the University of Texas Austin, where you can set up shop for the evening at Hotel Indigo Austin Downtown-University from 45,000 IHG points per night. Or, try out the cool and funky Kimpton Van Zandt for 60,000 IHG points per night. From there, drive north to Southern Methodist University and stay at AC Hotel Dallas Downtown (Category 4 Marriott) before finishing up your road trip at the University of Oklahoma. Stay at The Skirvin Hilton Oklahoma City (from 35k to 40k Hilton Honors points) and fly out of Oklahoma City the next morning. (Find out which Hilton credit card is best for family travelers.)
Ever dream of driving Route 1 along the Pacific Coast? Well, now is your chance. Begin your trip in Los Angeles where you can scope out the University of Southern California, Pepperdine and more while staying at the Kimpton Everly Hotel (from 60,000 IHG points per night). Drive a bit north to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where you can spend that night at Residence Inn Santa Barbara Goleta (Marriott Category 6) before making the nearly five-hour drive to Stanford University. (You’ll probably want to stop at spots like the Hearst Mansion and Big Sur along the way.)
In Stanford, head out to tour the University of California, Davis. Head back through the University of California, Berkeley, before ending up in San Francisco (stay at Parc 55 San Francisco from 46k to 60k Hilton Honors points per night) and flying back home.
Miles and points can make it easy to introduce your high school junior or senior to potential college choices while making at least a long weekend of it. Are you touring colleges with your teens this spring and summer? What’s your game plan?
Featured image by SuHP / Getty Images
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