USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe Lecessi is a former college athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
“Can I see myself going to school here?”
For student-athletes, there’s simply no better way to evaluate a college than by spending a day on campus. No matter where you’re at in the recruiting process, an unofficial visit can help you narrow down your list and settle on a place where you will thrive both athletically and academically. It’s your home for the next four years, after all.
During an unofficial visit, you can watch a game or a practice, sit in on a few classes and stay a night in the dorms. You can also use this opportunity to meet with the coaching staff on visits after September 1 of your junior year.
As long as your family foots the bill, these visits can happen as early and as often as you like. However, between travel, meals, and accommodation, your expenses can turn unofficial visits into an official headache. Here are five tips to help you keep the costs down and get the most bang for your buck.
Do some digging for discounts and deals
Travel: Some schools offer between $100-300 in reimbursements for travel expenses, while others offer fly-in programs to subsidize the expenses of prospective students who qualify for financial need. These trips often include meal vouchers and a night in the dorms. It doesn’t hurt to call the admissions office and ask!
Meals: Get a taste for campus cuisine by eating at least one meal at a dining hall or commons. Be sure to research nearby budget-friendly restaurants as well. The dining hall can be pricey without a meal plan but going out to eat adds up quickly—especially if the school is in a high-cost area.
Accommodation: Some hotels near college campuses offer discounted stays to prospective students and their families and even free shuttle rides to and from campus. It’s also worth checking Airbnb listings in the area and looking into subsidized on-campus lodging for visitors.
It pays to plan
Set a budget in advance and stick to it. Check the school calendar and steer clear of homecoming weekend and other busy dates to avoid paying premium hotel rates. If you’re driving, pack plenty of snacks and water bottles to minimize food-related spending on the road and on campus. Whenever possible, see a few different colleges in one road trip. Visiting the University of Oregon? Head an hour north to see Oregon State the next day. In some cases, you may even be able to plan two-a-days—stroll through one college in the morning, spend the afternoon and night at another in the area. If you are traveling to a tournament or showcase, make time to check out colleges of interest near the event.
Drive and arrive in style
Check your tire pressure before you hit the road and stay close to the speed limit to boost your gas mileage. Speeding doesn’t save time if you have to make an extra fuel stop or get pulled over. When you arrive, use an app like Groupon to see what local daily deals are available for meals, etc.
Don’t over-buy at the bookstore
It’s easy to get swept up in the college spirit and rack up a huge tab at the campus bookstore. What’s the point of visiting a school if you don’t pick up a sweatshirt? Or coffee mugs and shot glasses for that matter? Stick to a strict one-item limit to keep yourself from getting carried away.
Sit down with a financial aid officer
At some point during your visit, set up a meeting with a financial aid officer to help get a sense of what it really costs to attend that school. You can also discuss FAFSA and academic scholarship opportunities at the school. Even if you haven’t received an athletic scholarship offer yet, it can be helpful to understand what academic aid is available and what the average costs are per student.
Team up for twice the fun, half the cost
Inviting a teammate along for the ride is a great way to knock down costs while ramping up the excitement. Coordinating your trip with friends and their families can help you save on transportation. Plus, it can make the visit more fun and gives you someone to compare notes with. Who knows? You might both love the same school and decide to room together.